7 crucial questions to answer before implementing a new SharePoint environment

If there is one thing I have learned during my career as a SharePoint consultant, it’s that no SharePoint implementation is the same. There are differences in terms of content, structure, length, urgency and even enthusiasm. However, during the many talks I’ve had with new clients and interested parties, I also identified many similarities. Nowadays, these are things I specifically keep in mind. They increase the chance of success for all parties involved.

To emphasize it further: I want to answer these questions before I even start a new implementation. It’s extremely important for me to be on the same page as the client before I begin implementing SharePoint. This process of learning has without question been immensely valuable. In this article, I share the 7 questions I want answered during a fresh SharePoint implementation.

  • What is the problem of the business?
  • What is the goal of using SharePoint?
  • Where is the content and how is it structured?
  • How many files are we talking about?
  • Which content do we migrate, which content do we leave as is?
  • Who gets access to SharePoint?
  • How will SharePoint be used?

1. What is the problem of the business?

Every company has a reason for considering a migration to SharePoint. Nine out of ten times, the root cause of this consideration is a problem the company is facing. It could be about process automation, a central storage for files and documents, versioning, combining locations of files into one, the possibility to share files externally or a combination of factors. What’s important is to understand the reasoning for this choice. You need to have a full understanding of the problem(s) of the end-user and how SharePoint can solve these problems. In my opinion, this is the core of every SharePoint implementation. Without having total clarity about this, there’s no point in even starting the implementation.

2. What is the goal of using SharePoint?

Following the definition of the business problem, I immediately get to my next point: determining the goal or goals of the SharePoint site. Which departments of the company will make use of SharePoint and in which way? What is the business goal of each department? The answers to these questions will help you determine the structure of the SharePoint site. For example, the IT-department could have a need for a closed-off section meant for internal knowledge sharing, but also a public section meant for company-wide announcements. The same goes for HR – there could be a need for an employee portal in addition to a closed-off section meant for internal communication of the department. And what about project management? Which departments are involved in this? Make sure to understand the goal of the SharePoint implementation.

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3. Where is the content and how is it structured?

In most cases, the business will have existing content. It’s important to figure out what the current location of this content is. This is essential information that will help develop a migration plan on the one hand, and help determine the structure of the SharePoint site on the other hand. Your average company will have content stored on laptops, the internal network, a file share, Outlook, perhaps even in cloud-based solutions like Dropbox or Google Drive. In addition to this, their emails could be stored in Outlook or Gmail, just like their tasks could be stored in MS Project.

Having said that, don’t limit yourself to just the location of the content. Take a good look at the structure and the organization of the content as well. In most cases, the bulk of the content will be found in internal folders. Map out the structure and names of these folders. With this information, you can already draw some early conclusions about the metadata you will need later. This data will come in handy when designing the SharePoint site. For example, the folders could be based around employees, suppliers, projects or clients.

4. How many files are we talking about?

Duplicating an existing file share in SharePoint is not always a good idea. I regularly come across file shares with over 30,000 files or figures way beyond that. SharePoint has limits when it comes to file storage per site collection, document library, lists etcetera. Therefore, it’s extremely important to give special attention to documenting the number of existing files. Large numbers of files and documents will likely influence the way you will structure the SharePoint site. The result might be multiple sites or libraries.

5. Which content do we migrate, which content do we leave as is?

So, the bulk of the work is done. By now you should have a clear picture of the location, amount and characteristics of the current content. At this point, it’s important to research which content should be migrated to SharePoint. In most cases, not all existing content will be migrated. On the other hand, organizations are not very likely to start completely from scratch either. There is usually a middle ground. The migration process often already starts way before the actual SharePoint implementation by cleaning up the existing file share.

6. Who gets access to SharePoint?

A vital question to answer. Who gets access to which parts of the SharePoint site? Not only does this have to do with optimizing business processes, but most of all, with the security aspect of SharePoint. The best way to implement security settings is on a site-level. Which user groups are needed and which permissions do they get? Read, Contribute, Full Control or a combination?

At least as important is the question of who does not get access to the site or parts of the site. In SharePoint, security settings are inherited on a top-down basis. By having a good understanding of which individuals or user groups should not have access to certain content, you can identify the possible need for unique permissions per user or group.

Then, there is of course the issue of sharing content with external parties. If this is the case (it usually will be), then for security reasons I recommend creating a separate site collection that is in no way connected to the internal SharePoint site. For most companies, even having the risk of internal, sensitive data leaking out is already a nightmare of itself. Absolutely make sure to take care of security requirements for external sharing.

7. How will SharePoint be used?

SharePoint is more than just a hard drive or file share on an internal network. However, the possibilities for sharing files and saving documents are but the tip of the iceberg. SharePoint can save and manage all kinds of content ranging from lists and calendars to tasks, contacts and items. Are there requirements for this? If so, it will influence which SharePoint functionality you will deploy during the implementation.

I can only speak for myself, but nowadays, I will only start a SharePoint implementation if I have a clear answer to these 7 questions. Then when it’s time to start, I will implement it in phases.


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