6 Ways to Leverage User Experience to Improve Common SharePoint Obstacles

No organization builds a SharePoint environment with the goal of creating a poor user experience. Yet, many organizations do not plan for, adopt and design for an intuitive, user-friendly SharePoint environment.
So, why does this happen? It often stems from not understanding the business case behind user experience design and the value it will bring to the enterprise. In the case of SharePoint, the tools it provides usually solves many critical business problems – collaboration is not efficient, documents are not secure, IT is managing too many different systems, etc. – that SharePoint was built to specifically address. So, it should be a no-brainer that installing and implementing SharePoint in the enterprise will make business more efficient, productive, and easier to manage by administrators and users alike.
Show of hands, “How many of you have had this exact experience with your latest implementation or upgrade?” Ah yes, not that many hands. Don’t worry; there are ways to solve this problem.
Enter user experience. More specifically, user experience design.
We already know you have a user experience with your current systems. You really can’t help it. It is either good, bad or somewhere in between, and may be different for each of your system users. When I speak of user experience design, I’m referring to strategies and tactics to optimize the experience to the unique needs and behaviors of your user base. The methods for designing a great user experience are wide and varied and will change based on circumstances, so we’ll skip that and save it for a later post. In the meantime, let’s look at some common business problems with SharePoint implementations that user experience design improves to fulfill your audience’s needs.

  1. “I cannot find what I am looking for.”
    This is often the first thing heard when interviewing employees using SharePoint (or any other document management system.) This happens when there is not a clear, logical method for organizing information. The tricky thing is that the right organization pattern changes from company to company and down to each individual having natural bias towards one method or another.
  2. “I don’t know where to put my files.”
    The flipside to the point above is this can lead to sprawl as users add new folders and libraries to store files and documents when a clear destination is not presented. Again, it takes a careful examination of the way your users think and work to create a structure that balances findability with putability.
  3. “It takes too many steps to save and retrieve files.”
    This is sometimes characterized by applying standards or templates, based on outside reference or practices, which have not taken into consideration the unique workflows that users already have for managing files. Sometimes simply mapping the current process to the new environment will solve this. Sometimes it takes a new and novel approach to align user needs with a new interface.
  4. “The site pages are too complicated.”
    Great applications that provide a lot of tools and customizations can quickly be over complicated as features are added without considering how people will use them and if they are truly needed. Avoid this by building scenarios, use cases and other persona-based materials to help identify what is truly needed on a page and the likelihood of usage by your audience. You may find that great features and functionality aren’t truly needed and a simpler layout and offering may greatly improve adoption of the site.
  5. “Our people are not using the tools they already have.”
    Often heard from executive stakeholders, this suggests that there is a user experience problem. It can be software that doesn’t align with their task goals, an interface that is difficult to understand, varying levels of sophistication with technology or too much of a shift from the way things used to be. Identifying the specific issues and designing interfaces that align more with user needs will improve adoption of the tools and help to sustain usage over time.By putting the users in an organization first, user experience designers create interfaces, patterns, and structures that support the audience as a whole, regardless of the document management solution being implemented.
  6. “But isn’t user experience design costly?”
    Not necessarily. Cost is related to complexity, scale, and which risks are intended to be minimized by leading with user experience design. The issues and problems that a poor experience result in can often be more costly than a little design, a few interviews, a set of diagrams and frequent testing. The key is to start with simple objectives and scale up as necessary. Your users will thank you for it.
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