SharePoint Adoption and Success: Navigating the Chasm of Despair

3 minute read

Every time I see Sadie Van Buren talk about her truly excellent SharePoint Maturity Model, I think of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ work on Death and Dying. Yes, that may sound weird, but I find that many technology implementations do through the same phases to some degree.

Here are the five stages, as documented on Wikipedia:

1. Denial — “I feel fine.”; “This can’t be happening, not to me.”

Denial is usually only a temporary defense for the individual. This feeling is generally replaced with heightened awareness of possessions and individuals that will be left behind after death.

2. Anger — “Why me? It’s not fair!”; “How can this happen to me?”; ‘”Who is to blame?”

Once in the second stage, the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue. Because of anger, the person is very difficult to care for due to misplaced feelings of rage and envy.

3. Bargaining — “I’ll do anything for a few more years.”; “I will give my life savings if…”

The third stage involves the hope that the individual can somehow postpone or delay death. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made with a higher power in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. Psychologically, the individual is saying, “I understand I will die, but if I could just do something to buy more time…”

4. Depression — “I’m so sad, why bother with anything?”; “I’m going to die… What’s the point?”; “I miss my loved one, why go on?”

During the fourth stage, the dying person begins to understand the certainty of death. Because of this, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time crying and grieving. This process allows the dying person to disconnect from things of love and affection. It is not recommended to attempt to cheer up an individual who is in this stage. It is an important time for grieving that must be processed.

5. Acceptance — “It’s going to be okay.”; “I can’t fight it, I may as well prepare for it.”

In this last stage, the individual begins to come to terms with her/his mortality or that of a loved one.

Replace “death” and “loved one” with “SharePoint implementation” liberally, and you may see what I mean. SharePoint is just the technology; we’re asking people to fundamentally change the way they work. That’s hard, and going through the denial-anger-bargaining-depression-acceptance path is natural in most significant changes we have imposed on us. Change sucks, and we all have to deal with it every day.

(Please don’t think that I am in any way trivializing what people go through with a death. Far from it. I just find that this model applies to more situations than EKR originally intended.)

There is almost always a “chasm of despair” people must accelerate through to succeed with a significant change, whether a technology change or any other. One of my theories is that the organizations that have a high velocity when they enter the chasm can get out of it faster. There are some leading indicators for this, which are soft and fuzzy, just like all technologists look for. Not.

The things I look for in organizations that I think are indications for success:

  • Organizations which are strategically and organizationally nimble
  • Flatter reporting structures
  • Organizations without rigid job descriptions (the willingness and encouragement to step out of one’s role as needed)

Note that budget doesn’t always enter into it. I’ve seen organizations do amazing things on a shoestring and I’ve seen $100 million spent for little to no return. (Literally. I was part of a $100 million effort that was a total failure, IMHO.) Oh, there’s another indication: the ability to name something a failure, accept the blame for it, and learn from it openly.

One of the HUGE things that I feel has been missing in SharePoint’s first 10 years is a clear focus on measurable results. As Christian Finn kept saying at this summer’s SPTechCon keynote: deployment is not adoption. Unfortunately, it’s taken 10 years for Microsoft to really say this out loud in public.

In other words, we still have a lot of work to do. Sadie’s model and [hopefully] thinking about change management, and measuring success in meaningful ways (not page hits or number of documents uploaded), can help us reach that next stage of SharePoint maturity. That ought to mean the next level of organizational efficiency and effectiveness on many levels.

What do you think of all of this?



  1. Great comparison. I’ve had the opportunity of walking through the 5 stages with many customers, and you’re right on the indicators, the biggest I think “Organizations without rigid job descriptions”. Its a whole different mind set between an org with rigid, almost enforced job titles and and org that has broad generic titles.

  2. Marc, to your most-likely-to-succeed indicators I’d like to add: companies with a genuine focus on innovation. Maybe they need to be of the smaller, flatter type, rather than huge global innovators (I’m not sure) but the few I’ve worked with who genuinely Think Different and desire to Change The World (and are executing against that plan) have been really quick responders to failure and have been able to leap ahead in their maturity as a result.

    I think I’m going to have to storyboard the pre-maturity stages. I need to see them with images associated. As you say, stay tuned!

    • Sadie:

      I’ve always thought that it would be cool to be able to measure some of these leading indicators a la your 100-500 rankings. For instance, if someone said that their organization’s “flatness” was a 150, it would tell us that they had more work to do than an organization which had a “flatness” of 400. There would have to be pretty specific ways to think about “flatness” and everything else, of course.

      Some other things I look for:
      * Short cube walls (vs. tall)
      * Execs who sit with employees, or at least walk the same floors regularly
      * Smallness(smaller orgs tend to be more nimble)
      * etc.

      There are exceptions galore to all things, but in the organizations I’ve worked with or near, these are leading indicators that I find have a very high correlation with success. These are the things that I’m always pushing for you to layer into the model somehow. It’s not just “Are we mature in how we use SharePoint?”, it’s more “Are we mature in the way we are accomplishing the things we are using SharePoint to enable?” In other words, a step away from the technology and toward the real business goals.



Have a thought or opinion?