Speaking SharePoint: How to get help from IT

Six pointers communicators can use to win support from the tech-heads.

I’ve heard the groan from communicators: “We want SharePoint, but we’ll have to deal with IT.”

Dwelling on previous experiences with your IT department can curse a successful SharePoint project before it even begins. Like so many other IT/communications projects, SharePoint seems to bring out the worst in everyone — primarily due to a mutual lack of understanding:

  • IT knows the program, but doesn’t see why we communicators are so interested.
  • We don’t know the program and don’t understand why IT won’t help.

Our jobs are focused on building relationships. Why is working with IT any different? Get beyond issues from the past and focus on the task at hand.

Here are six tips to communicate your SharePoint needs to IT while nurturing a healthy working relationship.

1. Come up with a plan

Know what you want out of SharePoint before you meet with IT. Come up with a basic plan for the site and list the features you want to include. Don’t worry about how it will work, just brainstorm ideas of what you want on the site. Remember: there are no bad ideas in brainstorming! If something isn’t possible, it will come out later in your meetings with IT. A plan will help you organize your thoughts and explain your SharePoint vision to your IT co-workers.

Your plan should include a wish list of every feature you’d like to see on your site. Think about what your site needs and what would be nice to have. Consider color schemes, logos and photos. Decide which social media tools will have the most impact on your organization and how you would like to use them.

2. Do research

Search other SharePoint sites online to get examples. You can see some good examples from case studies at www.microsoft.com/casestudies (search by product: Microsoft Office SharePoint Server). But don’t limit yourself to SharePoint sites for inspiration — also look at some of your favorite Web sites for ideas. After all, a good SharePoint site should share the same qualities as a well-designed news site.

Additional ideas on the capabilities of SharePoint can be found through a Google search, or check out sites like www.codeplex.com, www.heathersolomon.com, and YouTube for inspiration.

3. Clearly define the goal of your site

As you learn more about SharePoint you may be tempted to keep adding more features. Your IT counterparts will be grateful for parameters on your initial site deployment. Decide if the new features are absolutely necessary to the start of your SharePoint site, or if they are something you can add in a later phase. Don’t worry about getting everything done at once. A successful SharePoint site will constantly evolve.

4. Draw pictures

Show them what you want your site to look like with a picture. Sketch it out by hand or use a design program to create a mock-up of your home page. Don’t worry about fancy drop shadows and eye-popping graphics. Keep it simple. Create a layout that you feel will be user-friendly and easy to navigate. Your picture will serve as a map to help everyone visualize the look of the end product, and should make conversations with IT much more productive.

5. Talk the talk

It’s much easier to communicate with IT when you speak their language. Learn the names of features in SharePoint and how they are used. Wow the techies with your knowledge of SharePoint — no matter how basic it may be. That being said, don’t pretend to know more than you do. There’s nothing more annoying than a know-it-all communicator who uses big words to sound important.

Along with some quality Google research, there are many resources out there to boost your SharePoint IQ. Get a book or two. I recommend “SharePoint for Dummies” and the Microsoft how-to books. There are other SharePoint books out there, but be careful — some are way too detailed, so be sure to browse before you buy.

If your budget permits, take a SharePoint training course. Without getting too in-depth, a basic end-user how-to course will teach you plenty of useful SharePoint terms and tricks.

6. Butter ’em up

There’s no need to send flowers, but give IT folks a little credit — they are the experts. Although there’s no HTML code knowledge required to manage an existing SharePoint site, it may be needed in the initial site setup. Unless you want to take extensive training, you might as well face the fact that they know more than you in this area.

Get them on your side by making sure they know you’re not trying to do their job. Put issues from the past aside and explain that you just want to make their job easier. Give them examples of how SharePoint can help you do that.

Here are a few talking points:

  • The SharePoint site will save them time. Once the site is up and running, users will be able to do basic updates for themselves. This will free up their time for more important matters.
  • They’ll still be needed. You don’t know (nor do you want to know) how the site works from the back end. You’ll still need their help on the big changes.
  • You’re in this together. You both want to create a valuable end product and need each other to get there. And remember: a successful site will make both of your bosses happy.

If all else fails, get off your high horse and play nice. It will be hard for them to stay mad at you when they see how hard you’re trying to make it work.

Annie Flachsbarth is a Publications Writer II at the Kansas Department of Labor.

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