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SharePoint is positioned to be one of the most chosen workflow platforms these days. Many companies are excited by the powerful capabilities of SharePoint workflow Microsoft has offered. With built-in features, you can very quickly create an approval workflow for your organization even the requirements include several rules and conditions. This apparently sounds like every letter you may have read in the Microsoft marketing documentation. Microsoft always ‘hypnotizes’ and does attract people in the business community by its writing.

SharePoint workflow although is miraculous to solving problems in company and ideally saving working time, it has still been considered a real two-edges knife in SharePoint. It would drop end-user motivation if the workflow deployment doesn’t address to what they expect. It even makes your intranet completely less valuable than it needs to be too.

In my SharePoint life, I have had my head huddled with clients together to simplify their business processes and participated in architecture to be applied to SharePoint. Whether to succeed in SharePoint workflow project or not, I have myself many lessons learned especially from failures and would like to share four gotchas for SharePoint workflow deployment.

End-user engagement performs carelessly

IT department often think they are providing very good IT services among departments to make the company operation run smoothly by software. The requirement doesn’t always derive from business challenges. For example, someone daily has to bring piece of physical paper of a request to his manager for review and approval. He never thought that there would be a tool that could help him send out the request in his local computer to the manager by clicking some steps. When planning for business automation process in company, IT department doesn’t really invite end-users who bear cumbersome process day-by-day. Some even just themselves come up with great ideas of making things fabulous for end-users and then realize the fact that end-users don’t really need those ideas.

To build a workflow that meets end-user’s need, you do need to have a clear business case. This requires end-user engagement well performed during deployment. Without end-users who will be the main actors of the workflow involved to confide their current challenges, the business case is probably always equivocal. In the company I worked with as a consultant, the IT department had heard of somewhere from someone internally that HR department needed an HR on-boarding solution built on their existing SharePoint 2010 platform. The IT guys then looked for the definition of HR On-boarding and its common processes on Google because they hadn’t never known it at that time. The guys came to the HR department to tell they were excited to help build the solution. HR guys in the department immediately came to agree without knowing clearly how the solution would specifically address their needs. After a month spending effort for HR On-boarding deployment on SharePoint and a few workshops, the IT department released it to the HR department. Ironically, HR guys asked lots of questions and seemed not to be satisfied by the solution. As a result, the IT department made wasteful effort.

Before starting with plan of end-user engagement, you need to identify some common key challenges. First, end-users are those who are not really familiar with computer. They may be only good at Microsoft Word, Excel. Therefore, consider avoiding technical languages as much as possible. See the sample that IT guys commonly explain to HR staffs: “…The HR Interview Management workflow provides you the ability to filter candidates by defined fields, such as Sex, Skills, Marriage status…etc.” This description is incomprehensible. They will probably ask you what “defined field” means. Instead, explain in another way. …. You can search/find/look up candidates by Sex, Skills, Marriage status or any kind of information on a candidate”. The latter is actually better off. Make sure you don’t use much technical language when explaining something to your end-users. This is to avoid confusion.

The second challenge is that people are too busy to attend the workshop with you. They don’t actually see (or never saw) benefits of getting involved. This thought could be a corollary of bad relationship between IT and another department. When IT invites them to a discussion of developing a new system, it may be the (right) time IT department would have nothing to do or just squeeze money from the set budget. On the other hand, if predecessor deployments aren’t helpful, the next might get the same quality. The strategy in this point would be to let them feel they are indispensable to the deployment success, or make them feel valued.

Making an effective end-user engagement requires several techniques and skills altogether combined. Below are some recommendations:

  • Using Dialogue Mapping to find out key challenges, wicked problems
  • Asking them the appropriate time they feel free to discuss.
  • Giving straightforward questions and hints to capture right information. Never ask something like “What do you want/need?” It’s one of the bad questions ever! Instead, use Yes/No or Choice questions.
  • Raising topics to help end-user brainstorm effectively, or imagine what they expect to see in the future
  • Being clear for changes, quality control or deadline.

End-user engagement isn’t just to invite people heading down to the table for a discussion and to gather requirements. It’s also to develop a good relationship with end-user to win next projects in the future.

This article isn’t really focused on workflow deployment. It, however, provides a good start for you when deploying workflow solution for your company. As I have seen, end-user engagement is always the first stated cause of any failures of workflow deployment. Hence, this will be never fallen into oblivion. Anyway, the next article is much more detailed on workflow deployment.

Must-read references:

(To be continued…)

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