SharePoint and the Used Car Lot

November 3, 2011   //   SharePoint, , , , , , ,

Microsoft SharePoint can be a great productivity tool.  Its breadth of functionality and its flexibility allows it to be used in a wide variety of ways, and in organizations of all types and sizes. It can help you manage your documents more effectively, streamline your business processes, and build a better intranet.  But, without an extreme makeover, it isn’t likely to win many beauty pageants.

For the sake of illustration, let’s say you walk onto a used car lot, with the intent of buying a car.  You don’t have any specific preferences about what kind of car; you just need the means to get where you need to go.  Now, the used car salesman gives you the old cliché, ‘Have I got a deal for you!’ and shows you an old grey clunker.  It’s nothing fancy, just four wheels and an engine with no air conditioning.  But, right next to the old grey clunker sits a shiny red sports car.  Here’s the question: Which one do you want to take for a test drive?

Personally, I’d opt to put the sports car through its paces.  Despite the fact that both cars serve the same purpose and the old grey clunker may get me where I’m going, I’m naturally more inclined to want to try out the more attractive option.  It’s only human.  Of course, my more practical side (and my wife) may ultimately convince me to buy the old grey clunker, but still…

So, what does the Used Car Lot have to do with SharePoint?  For starters, if your Company Intranet or Portal looks more like an old clunker than a shiny sports car, your users may be less inclined to want to take it for a test drive.  Research has shown that people assess the visual appeal of a website in as little as 1/20 of a second (Lindgaard & Pineau, Human Oriented Technology Lab, Carleton University, 2010).  Whether it’s right or wrong, that first impression impacts subsequent judgments that users make regarding the usability, credibility and ultimately the value of the website (it’s the so-called ‘halo effect’).

Let’s take the car analogy one step further: Having made whichever choice of cars you feel is best for you, you drive out of the Used Car Lot and head towards your destination.  If the car succeeds in getting you where you want to go, you will likely keep driving it.  If it breaks down and strands you by the side of the road, you’ll think twice about trusting in it the next time you need to go somewhere.  Maybe you’ll even abandon it altogether.

Of course, once users move past the initial Intranet home page and actually start trying to find information or accomplish the task at hand, usability becomes paramount.  If people can’t quickly or easily access what they’re looking for, they will be less likely to try next time.  But, if they are successful in their quest, they are more likely to repeat the behavior and adoption will naturally follow.  Satisfied users will continue to visit the shiny new Intranet more often, and will likely share their experiences with their co-workers.  The potential productivity-enhancing value to the organization will actually be realized.

And that means more shiny red sports cars for all!