Microsoft’s solution for a “social” workplace isn’t yet resonating with SharePoint users. That’s according to feedback we received from attendees and speakers from SPTechCon, held two weeks ago in San Francisco.

Perhaps it’s because if they’re working with an on-premise SharePoint Server, the social capabilities being cooked into Office 365 are not available to them. Most likely, from my conversations with attendees over lunch and after-hours adult beverages, they’re just not yet ready to make the commitment to the cultural changes required to make “social” successful. Christian Buckley, a popular speaker at SPTechCon, had this to say on the subject.

From where I sit, though, I see a parallel to the world of agile development for software. When the Manifesto was first written some dozen years ago, there was a lot of pushback from developers who said, simply, “This isn’t how we work, so I don’t see how this can benefit me.” This is a common refrain when new technology is introduced into an organization. People often say, “Why should we change how we work to fit the software, when the software should reflect and enhance the way we do work?”  Software providers often say, “We want to help our customers, who already have great processes in place, do their jobs more efficiently, not force them to change to use our software.”

Yet social, like agile development, is a profound change. Agile development teams now deliver working software in a period of days and weeks, not the 12- to 18-month timeframe it took when software was still created under the waterfall method. The emphasis on gathering all requirements up front, before the project could begin, has changed. The idea that code would be thrown over a wall to a test/QA team, which could take weeks to run a full set of functional and regression tests on the project, is no longer viable. Overnight batch builds have gone the way of the dinosaur, in favor of continuous integration and delivery.

This is a radical departure from how software was created just a decade ago, yet it is now pervasive, commonly understood and accepted.

So it must be with the “social workforce.” Right now, folks are comfortable with e-mail, which they’ve used for so long. They understand and use instant messaging, and might even use video chat. They’re probably using some kind of document share, and if they aren’t, then they think their process of e-mailing and primitive version control (if it exists at all) is just good enough.

But in 10 years, let’s see where we are, and let’s look at the arguments people put up against the social workplace. My guess is that many organizations will have adopted some way for their workers to not only share documents, but see everyone’s changes and read the comments by their entire team against or in favor of those changes. They will love the ability to find an expert within their company to help them through a problem. They will love the ease of finding and understand priorities for work, and the ability to measure how far along they’ve come. Microsoft’s sneak peek at the Oslo interface gives a hint of where this is going; I’m excited to see more in the months ahead.

Cultural change is hard. There need to be leaders in the organization to bring this new technology in and prove that it can achieve positive ROI. Once others see the success, they’ll want to get on board.

It takes time. But it will get there. It’s too powerful in what it offers to not be used. If you’re uncomfortable with social for now, fine. Leave it to the early adopters. That’s always been the way of technology acceptance. Let them show the benefits and the ROI. When it’s proven, as Agile Development has been proven in the programming world, critical mass will take over. And, most of all, you’ll end up liking it.