It’s a centuries-old lesson. Be it to compel loyalty to the cause, force a confrontation, or show confidence in the path forward, military leaders have been known to scuttle ships and destroy bridges to make retreat impossible. While not nearly as historic as Alexander the Great or Hernán Cortés, we have gotten pretty good at applying this lesson in information technology. Long gone are the days when running systems in parallel was considered best practice… we typically just “cut over” and know that without a way back, there will be an urgency and focus to make the new system work.

Unfortunately this approach has proven difficult – if not impossible – with SharePoint, in particular where it is used to store and collaborate on documents. We can decommission eRoom, Lotus Notes, and other document management or collaboration tools. But with the continued existence of email, there is always another bridge back across the river, another rowboat hiding along the shore, to send documents back and forth to one another. This isn’t to advocate shutting down your email server (though I suspect there are a few people who might appreciate the thought!). But to get the commitment required, you need to find a way to make that option unattractive.

The most successful approach I experienced was when a Program Manager made it known that he would not respond to emails with attachments if there were a way to post the attachment instead in the team’s SharePoint site. There were a couple of exceptions – sharing highly confidential documents, accommodating those who had temporary network connectivity issues – but for everything else, the expectation was clear and he was consistent. He acknowledged the annoyance of a few extra clicks and a little extra time, but also discussed the value of having a single source of truth, and of not having to spend time and frustration consolidating versions of documents being emailed around. He was also persistent – we didn’t talk about this just once at the beginning of the project; it was discussed every time we welcomed a new team member, and sometimes as a refresher in team meetings.

His approach worked – over the three-year duration of the program, I don’t remember anyone asking, “now where was that file again?” We had more visibility into each other’s work, smoother inter-team communications, and improved document security. So while the Program Manager didn’t sink the entire email boat, he did limit its use to a few specific situations, prompting us all to stay committed… and benefit in the process.