By Geoff Evelyn

For those entrenched in trying to get information workers to buy into using SharePoint, SharePoint User Adoption seems to be a black art. In a way, it is because the kind of enticements and methods you use will be relative to the product that is being supplied. In reality, complexity of User Adoption is based on the breadth of the SharePoint solution being implemented.

This article shows the different types of people there are in terms of the User Adoption (which has a lifecycle), and attempts to identify the related high priority areas where you should focus your communication and training programmes. Note. The kind of users involved are ‘generic’; and therefore you should use this as a model for any SharePoint solution – irrespective of version. The key areas of SharePoint I will focus on relate to Information Architecture, Term Store, Search and User Profiles and in SharePoint 2013.

In my various roles of implementing SharePoint, and with working with all kinds of organizations, and the trials and tribulations of aiding information workers, I’ve summarized that there are, in essence, four types of users when it comes to adopting SharePoint solutions. I have found, that if you spend time in working out where the sponsor, stakeholders and their target users are in relationship to those types of users, you can create a strategy that allows you to ensure that for each type of user there is a win scenario. The tips below are some of my thoughts on what these kinds of users are, and what you should do to help them embrace and buy-in to your intended SharePoint delivery.

Again, and I must stress, I’ve tried to make this as ‘generic sounding’ as possible and not mention specific features of solutions of SharePoint for these users because whilst the technical goals may be different, how you deal with these user-types is not in relation to the core functionality of SharePoint – particularly in relation to the basics such as navigation, location of content, search, social collaboration. In addition, in my forthcoming book for SharePoint 2013 (SharePoint 2013 Planning Adoption and Governance), I expand on these adopter types using ‘real world’ scenarios based on SharePoint solution delivery – that said, understanding the absolute basics in very important, as much as understanding how these types of users fit. The reason why these types of users are mentioned now is that it will help in forming tailored communication and training programmes going forward.

Types of User Adopters

First, lets’ summarise the kinds of users you will be faced with in terms of implementing a SharePoint solution and some tips in getting them on the ladder of User Adoption.

Innovators. These are ‘SharePoint’ adventurers, they don’t mind taking risks, they like to play, and they don’t mind failures; some call them mavericks These are not the kind of people that you want to act as stewards to get others to use the product, so try not to immediately involve them, rather, they should be identified very quickly. They should be given access to a sandbox environment that allows them to get a flavour for SharePoint features and where there is no risk of downtime to a production environment. You should try to involve them in the design stages, and spend time in training best practice in terms of using SharePoint. When doing this, try to evangelise to them the key areas of what the solution is intending to solve, and err them to trying out features relating directly to those. Note these are not the key adopters, they are classified as ‘geeks’, and their end-goals may not be yours in terms of trying to get all users productively using and learning to use the intended solution.

Early Adopters. These are people who need to have a business requirement solved by the use of SharePoint. They command respect from their peers, and as such should be involved as early as possible. So, like innovators, involve these people early, but ensure that their requirements are captured in the solution being provided. You should also ensure that they are able to trial the solution in UAT (User Acceptance Test) environments and that you capture, in detail, those requirements. These are key people feed into the Early Majority type adopter. They are more cautious users because they invariably need to be proved to that the solution will make them more productive. Hand-hold these users; train them to ensure the complexity of the solution is lowered.

Early Majority. Early Adopters become part of the Early Majority Adopters. These are respected users of the solution and, like Early Adopters are critical to the success of the solution. You should immediately identify SharePoint Champions from these and ensure that training includes labs, and that you continually meet to identify any pain points, success stories. Communicate these to Early Adopters to get them on-stream quicker. And use the same success communication stores to the Late Majority adopters. The Early Majority adopters should also be taught to become more independent, so they can start managing the solution on their own. To do this, help them build policies of governance to manage and to guide others. Push those policies to the Late Majority Adopters and the ‘Hanger-Backs’. Build training guides and make those available in as many formats as applicable and possible. This area is vitally important, success stories do not happen overnight. Be patient and continue to build on the strengths, and weaknesses of these adopters.

Late Majority. These are people who have not been part of the solutions implementation. They may have been introduced by ‘attrition’; told “Drop whatever you was using … You will use SharePoint from now on”; or through some other reason such as “I have just joined the company and been told to use SharePoint and have no idea what it is”. Connections must be made with Early Adopters, and using the materials gained through the creation of policies and the creation of SharePoint Champions so that these late majority adopters can get aid and comfort. You must still train these users, again by using contend from the Early Majority. In other words, treat the Late Majority no differently to the Early Majority, however, formalize the decisions of anything that happens with the use of the solution through the policies already defined. Do not use the Late Majority adopters as a benchmark to alter policies and procedures relevant to the use of the SharePoint solution.

Hanger Backs. With any SharePoint solution you will have those users who will resist having to use the product. These I call ‘Hanger Backs’, people who hate change and strive for the traditional. They fear the use of the replacement solution or new solution because either (a) they have not been involved and/or (b) they do not want to be trained due to political reasons, etc. Do not attempt to force the solution upon these users. Use your SharePoint sponsor and key stakeholders (who should be Early Adopters) to drive home the importance of using the SharePoint solution. Communicate to these users the success stories that you have gathered from the Early Majority adopters. Use the SharePoint Champions to aid that communication. Do not take any resistance from the Hanger Backs as a message that the solution has failed. It has not, these users, remember account for the minority in the terms of releasing the solution.

Start small; Grow User Adoption by Training and Communicating

SharePoint has literally hundreds of features, and the ability to integrate with hundreds of products and systems. No one is a SharePoint superman, so do not expect your users to become SharePoint-Super-people. Do not go down the route of attempting to list every one of the features from the get-go simply because you want to present ‘wow-factor’. Presenting far too much glitz and tech will confuse users and/or produce far too many questions to answer and prioritize, wasting time and energy. Instead, focus on familiarizing users with the key functionality, and nurture them as the platform grows. Continue enhancing the communication by providing continual updates on things that matter to the users. Make sure there is a delivery plan for any solutions and that the users are informed (as this will create more adopters).

To make sure that you have a consistent and standard approach; develop a communication programme that includes information related to key features designed to solve basic information challenges. Write and demonstrate in a way that your users will understand. Whilst the basic feature-set has not changed from 2010 to 2013, there are differences that you should show your users concerning SharePoint 2013. So, to help, I’ve penned some findings based on SharePoint 2013 features that should be part of your communication and training programmes back to your information workers; in other words, those user types given above – specifically, the Early and Late Majority adopters. I am going to basically cover the five key areas that you should look to in terms of getting users to buy-in to SharePoint.

Note that once these are understood you must be able to describe to the intended users using NO JARGON!

Information Architecture.

This is concerning the planning of information delivery, access, organization of content. Concerning the basics of User Adoption, the most important to the lay SharePoint user is the ability to use SharePoint. Therefore, let’s look at the most important aspect - navigation through a SharePoint environment. The key is that the navigation must help the user identify (a) that they know where the information is, (b) that they know the information exists on the SharePoint site, but not sure where it is and (c) that they don’t know where the information is on the SharePoint site, and they do not know where it is. Of course, navigation and search is tied into Information Architecture, but let’s examine basic navigation in SharePoint 2013 first.

So for navigation, let’s take an example of a SharePoint 2013 (through an Office365 SharePoint Online representation) site being part of the provided SharePoint solution, and start understanding the format of the navigation that it provides. Compared to SharePoint 2010, SharePoint 2013’s navigation is now more structured to the left of the page in terms of user direct navigation; this makes for a cleaner representation, simply because the majority of users will look to the left for navigation, whilst owners of sites may look to the right. Therefore, gone is the Site Actions menu from SharePoint 2010 from the left hand of the page. Instead, Browse and Page tabs are prominent. Using the PAGE tab brings up the ribbon. Gone is the Breadcrumb trail button from SharePoint 2010. Instead, the top line bar of the site is cleaner, with the sites properly lined up above the Site name.


On the top right in SharePoint 2013 are some interesting options again targeted towards a cleaner representation of the available screen to view data. Like SharePoint 2010, the user profile line is displayed giving the user who is currently logged in, however, everything else is different.


For further detail, please note I have devoted a volume of detail concerning User Adoption in my book ‘SharePoint 2013 User Adoption Planning and Governance’, and in that I write more about sponsor and stakeholder SharePoint management and guidance. This also has a bearing on user adoption and the types of users.


Searching for content, or using ‘Find-ability’, as those working the Information Architecture field would put it, is a crucial part to the User Adoption of any platform. Designing the structure of where content appears in a SharePoint site important of course, but ensuring that the user can locate that content is vital as it guarantees the structure and proves to the users that their information can be located. Additionally, performance comes into question since there is very little point in having a search provision if content cannot be located quickly. Having the best navigation in the world will not help if the user has to spend time looking for information; there is nothing as un-productive as having to find content that is stored in SharePoint. When demonstrating the search capabilities of SharePoint, you should start from the perspective that the user wants to simply find something – providing a mass of options will only confuse. Start small, by showing the explicit features. Then, as specific requirements come in (and they will since the classification of documentation will drive search), ensure that the relevant features being employed tie back to what is provided out of the box. Do not be slighted by those who would say ‘I want Google Search’ I had the very same issue and mentioned the use of Fast Search Server and other reasons why doing something like that was not wise. SharePoint 2013 Search is now very much improved in any-case; Fast Search technology is now at the very heart of SharePoint 2013.

The following shows an example search carried out in an Office365 site. In the example, the search for any content containing INFORMATION MANAGEMENT is shown. A reminder, this article is not going to go into details about how each of the features work, rather, the focus is what functionality is there that you can use to evangelise to users and as such increase User Adoption.


Note There is an absolute ton of information concerning strategizing, configuring, building, mapping search and one only has to try out TechNet to see a fraction of what is available.

Term Store.

SharePoint 2010 heralded the entry of the Term Store. The Term Store provided methods to ensure that content could be tagged and classified, through a standard set of terms that could be used by users to tag content. Whilst of course users could already classify content by setting columns and driving them through repositories on the site, this was a method of centralizing organizational terms so that they could be used across the entirety of the SharePoint environment. In SharePoint 2013, the Term Store has improved methods to help the information architecture of SharePoint sites, by defining multi-level navigation and the ability to create dynamic pages, where content could be harvested through search results relevant to terms in the Term Store. The navigation created can be exposed to the top link and the quick launch bar. The following shows the Term Store in SharePoint Online through Office 365 with the added navigation.


And now, this is the same menu structure in the relevant site once applied:


Note. The Term Store navigation replaces Structural Navigation – a more detailed look at this will be provided in a later article.

User Profiles

A User Profile is a record of an individual stored in SharePoint and made up of their attributes, for example, last name, cost code, department, etc. Key to this is the ability to directly connect to the organizational people data-store (for example, Active Directory) to third party Human Resource systems. Aspects also include the ability to locate people using Tags and Notes. User Adoption challenges relate to the following areas:

· Quickly locate individuals using one or more attributes of individuals and from ‘any’ SharePoint host

· Find out more about users based on what they are doing and their interests

· Provide methods to provide feedback on any SharePoint derived content

· See organization charts and peoples picture

In terms of User Adoption, getting users to understand the perspective of User Profiles needs to be planned very carefully and needs to involve key users and other departments / functions such as Human Resources, Legal, etc. And because in the main Active Directory is used as a connection to the User Profiles service, there is a compounding benefit to provide HR with the ability to use and expand on the properties of the User Profile. For example, HR may wish to have a field that identifies Contractors and Full Timers; that then provides the ability to create Audiences of individuals based on that division. User Profiles is a key strategic influencer, so make sure that first that the strategic goals of the organization concerning SharePoint map into the provision of User Profiles and relevant features. Start small, and identify the early adopters quickly, get sponsors on board as soon as possible. Use Microsoft Office integration features as part of the selling point. Make sure you have a communications plan that accurately describes the benefits of User Profiles. Launch an initiative looking at People Search and demonstrate the search capabilities and the people search result features.

User Profiles in any SharePoint version deserves its own article (and then some). Especially since the user interface is tied to MySites and as such Social Computing comes in (see the TechNet link below). There is so much to cover particularly related to how easy you can connect people in many ways and how they can be visually represented. The key in relation to User Profiles is that the format of the information displayed is very important; as this needs to be kept as simple to understand as possible, and yet, provide some very powerful and effective methods of showing information about people. Every picture tells a story, so here is an example screenshot of a User Profile in SharePoint 2013; and please note, there is a lot more I could show (like tagging, notes display) but that’s for another article!



SharePoint 2013 marks a significant change in the User Interface; you need to be mindful of this and ensure that users are fully informed. Communication and Training is vital. Business need analysis concerning the ‘ease of use’ of SharePoint must be rolled into any SharePoint delivery programme. This is not a single ‘moon-shot’ event; users must be managed and nurtured through the process. And, never delude yourself into thinking that simply being a SharePoint guru will magically create User Adoption; that kind of thinking will end up as fail. Your users are critical to success in this regard and you will need to fully engage with them to guarantee buy-in. Identify SharePoint features and core products. For example, Microsoft Office 2010 and to a much greater degree Microsoft Office 2013 use integrated features; the road to success means proper alignment – that means ensuring the users are aware of how SharePoint aligns with Microsoft Office (another article will be written explaining more on this topic).


There are some great references you should add to your bookmarks for SharePoint 2013 that I should give mention to as they have been extremely helpful in getting me to understand SharePoint 2013, the differences and some areas of User Adoption that needs to be taken into consideration. These are in no particular order:

The MSDN page reference for SharePoint 2013. Whilst it appears to be building up it appears to embrace a significant amount of information related to both the development and IT pro side here:

TechNet has a mass of information concerning changes that make SharePoint 2013 what it has become, going into further detail based on the high level topics covered in this article; like BDC, eDiscovery, Records Management, Social Computing, Web Content Management, Workflow and much more:

The End User content team at Microsoft on their SharePoint for End Users blog has some great information concerning areas of SharePoint that will affect end users and will help with building training materials; check out this link:

I have had great fun in writing this article, spoken to loads of people concerning SharePoint 2013, and demo’ed its functionality to users who have seen SharePoint, and some who have never seen it. I found in my travels that whilst I am still investigating, learning and in fact adopting SharePoint myself I hope I am getting more in tune with how user adoption could succeed (and of course there will be trials and tribulations). In any case, I hope you have found the article useful; and any comments more than welcome! Further information concerning this topic and much more will be in my forthcoming Microsoft Press book ‘SharePoint 2013 Planning Adoption and Governance’ and on my site.


Bonus Articles by Geoff:

SharePoint 2013 Features



Useful Links



About the Author


MVP LogoGeoff Evelyn is a SharePoint MVP, and likes to be known as a “Hands on” Technical Evangelist and works as a SharePoint Solutions Architect. He has published many articles, guides and books about SharePoint. With over 25 years of experience in information systems, he is a Fellow of the Institute of the Analysts and Programmers, a Fellow of the Institute of Computer Technology, a Member of the Institute of Management Information Systems, a Prince 2 Practitioner, with MCDST, MCSD, MCTS, MCITP Microsoft certifications and is M.O.S (Microsoft Office Specialist) Certified.