Project Management

Turn a failed SharePoint implementation into a win

A failed SharePoint implementation is an obstacle to collaboration and communications. Here are tips for turning a failed SharePoint implementation around.

SharePoint as a technology platform usually isn't problematic; the implementation of SharePoint is often where the problem lies.

The current budget climate means an investment in SharePoint may come under more scrutiny than ever to boost productivity. When SharePoint is locked down beyond being useful, and infrastructure such as file storage can't support users, SharePoint is bound for trouble.

I've observed SharePoint be a successful and integral business platform for collaboration and content management. I've also witnessed SharePoint implementations fail, even on teams that had knowledgeable SharePoint users onboard; these users had to give up on the platform or only use it at the behest of a management or process mandate.

Here are some ways to turn a failed SharePoint implementation into a success.

Migrate to Office 365

With budgets shrinking across the commercial and federal government sectors, on-premise SharePoint farms (especially if underutilized because of a failed implementation) are coming under the budget spotlight.

If your on-premise SharePoint implementation is failing and underutilized, it might be time for your organization to move to Office 365 (budget permitting). This can be an opportunity to start over on SharePoint, especially in areas of governance and site management. Moving to the cloud can also help save on infrastructure and security costs, while opening up SharePoint to mobile and remote users without the requirements of a Virtual Private Network (VPN) or a mobile security solution.

Revise your SharePoint governance plan

SharePoint governance is a guideline on how an organization plans to use SharePoint. The process of creating a SharePoint governance plan varies from organization to organization. Bureaucracy, SharePoint misconceptions, and other related factors can further muddy SharePoint governance.

When reviewing a failed SharePoint implementation and the following complaints come to light, you need to revise your SharePoint governance so your organization can finally get a return on its SharePoint investment:

  • Lack of storage;
  • Lack of user training;
  • Poor site navigation; and
  • Lack of site control at the department/team level hampered user productivity.

Rally internal SharePoint champions 

Even when I've been inside an organization where SharePoint was failing, there were still internal champions for the platform. These were users who had business interest in the platform to solve one of their pain points like document version control or SharePoint power users who had collaboration experience from previous jobs or contracts.

Rallying those internal champions (even the frustrated ones) into the turnaround of SharePoint is a necessity. You should include these people in the governance plan revision process and any restarts you attempt on the technology side. The reaffirmation of SharePoint by an internal champion who end users trust goes further than a management mandate, job aid, or user training ever could.

Decentralize SharePoint site management

A common theme I've seen in failed and floundering SharePoint implementations has been centralized management where the project teams (i.e., the internal customers) were little more than visitors to SharePoint.

Decentralizing SharePoint site management to the team level requires the following:

  • Changing SharePoint governance policies;
  • Establishing site administrator best practices; and
  • Restructuring SharePoint site support policies for the help desk.

Once you decentralize SharePoint site management, don't forget  to publicize and chat up successes that teams had with SharePoint on their own projects. The decentralized model isn't about "setting SharePoint free," it's about finding a balance that accounts for user/team productivity, infrastructure/storage, and support.

Playing the decentralized SharePoint card means you must have the power users out there to take a lead on SharePoint within the departments and the teams. If you don't have enough power users, you may have to grow your own through cross-pollination with other power users, on the job training, third-party training, or a combination of all three.

Introduce mobile access to SharePoint

Some of the most leading edge and creative work around accessing SharePoint and Office 365 is being done by mobile app developers like and Colligo.

I've tried most of the major iPad apps for accessing SharePoint and the Office 365 and SharePoint Mobile Client in particular could breathe new life into SharePoint access by providing a better (and touch screen) user experience.

Migrate away from the SharePoint platform 

Being at the center of the Microsoft enterprise ecosystem and being available through enterprise licensing agreements helped SharePoint gain its dominant enterprise footprint; however, the collaboration platform market is maturing and growing right around the SharePoint platform due to the advent of the cloud.

Alastair Mitchell, CEO of Huddle, and Dan Schoenbaum of Teambox (both companies are SharePoint competitors) point to failed SharePoint implementations in their own career and company histories. In fact, Huddle unabashedly targets SharePoint while promoting itself as an alternative. (Read Huddle vs. SharePoint: A comparative analysis in three collaboration scenarios.)

When shopping for a SharePoint alternative, you should keep the migration of documents and other site content like calendar information and task lists at the top of your requirements list. Both Huddle and Teambox offer free test drives and a wealth of online content that can help you decide if either platform is a viable SharePoint alternative for your organization.


It makes poor financial and business sense to leave SharePoint to flounder in down economic times. Instead, you should make quick work of turning around a failed SharePoint implementation. This can have a positive effect across your organization in areas of collaboration, document management, and security.


Will Kelly is a freelance technical writer and analyst currently focusing on enterprise mobility, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), and the consumerization of IT. He has also written about cloud computing, Big Data, virtualization, project management ap...


Hi Will,

I really like this article and I particularly relate to your statements about governance.

My IT department is convinced SharePoint is the solution for all of our document management needs, including running our engineering projects. We are a large infrastructure design and construction firm. Our projects comprise a high level of engineering and are budgeted at up to $100s millions of dollars (we have 430 live ones, of varying sizes). Using SharePoint, our records and processes are a mess. We are being given a generic tool which does not come close to the functionality offered by industry standard engineering project management software (used by other similar businesses and competitors). We actually want to use SharePoint for managing our business and administrative records only, in a team environment, but we require an industry tool like Bentley systems, for our engineering projects.

The problem is, our IT department argue that “everything is possible” with SharePoint. After 4 years and having spent more than 2 million, with dedicated designers, we are seeing that progress in the system is slow and expensive, we are building workflows, templates etc from scratch, customisation breaks with upgrades, and we still lack most basic functionality of a DMS, let alone our engineering requirements. Governance is an issue, with no solution design control at the business level, this is held by IT, whilst paradoxically, all site owners can be administrators (100s of people). We have been pushing for a governance group at the business level, but this has been resisted by IT. Security is a problem too - flat structured. Work is siloed, navigation incorrect, site structure variable and ineffective for our needs etc

In our SharePoint experience we have found there is a big difference between the 'possible' and the 'actual'.

I have documented the issues to death, resulting in too many words for managers to want to read.

What it boils down to is a) that SharePoint does a decent job of managing admin and business records in a simple team environment b) SharePoint is a generic (vanilla) platform. Sure, in a world of unlimited time, resources and money, SharePoint could be customised, coded and built on with third party modules, to the extent that it would be able to address some of our requirements. However it would then be a Frankenstein, completely bespoke and reliant on an IT department to support and breakable with upgrades. It would take years to reach the point of meeting only some of our requirements. Crucially, the end product, after much investment, including in the time of our internal resources, would be as good as the software, and our collective business and IT inputs can make it, and only that good. There is no certainty of the quality of the outcome (which to date has been poor), as there is with an off-the-shelf industry tool.

Instead, with SharePoint everything must be created. Built, based on what we think (hope) would/could/should work, and then changed and changed again. Our IT department sit waiting with a pen poised over a blank page, for the business tell them “our processes”. Yet none of us in the business presume to suppose we can better the kind of intellectual property that has evolved and is now well honed, within other industry standard systems, which we know our business will benefit from. We are an infrastructure design and construction company, not a software development company. Somehow this fact has been lost sight of.

That's not to say we don’t expect a system to need some customisation to suit our individual needs (we want it to), just that we need a decent platform to build from, with off the shelf capability. To have this would be a massive leap forward for the businesses cost efficiency, product quality and customer service.

Our IT department want to keep developing this tool. There is strong vested interest in maintaining the status quo. How I do I explain this to my managers in a way that can help them break the glass ceiling?

Any advice or other articles you can point me to would be most gratefully received.

Thanks again for this one.


Will -

Thanks for the piece. Since I specialize in recusing failed or failing projects and programs I was hoping to get some insight out of your post. I'm a little more than disappointed. 

Ignoring the misguided suggestions of adopting Office 365 or writing off SharePoint by switching to another platform, the key first step in turning around a failed implementation is understanding why it failed. Of course there can be multiple reasons for failure, but until you start really understanding the nature of the problem any new solution becomes a random choice. I re-read the post 3 times looking for this fundamental step but it was nowhere to be found.

- Casey

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