SharePoint is fundamentally a business platform, worth more than the sum of its parts. It is not just a piece of software, not just a series of servers, not just a collection of tools and accelerators: it is a platform on which your business can associate, collaborate, and innovate. So why are the majority of deployments initiated by IT or engineering without the voice of the business users?
If this sounds like your company, and you’re preparing to build out SharePoint for the first time, migrate from an earlier version to the latest, or move your content out onto SharePoint in the cloud, these are steps you can take to move this project from a purely IT-led initiative to a more business-focused effort:
Build your environment with business solutions in mind.
Never deploy SharePoint without a clear idea of the business solutions you are trying to solve. While “to collaborate more” or “to create a single version of the truth” are technically valid, these generic answers can be applied to a wide range of solutions, and don’t help you refine your plans to meet the specifics of your business. Something more detailed might be “Automate dashboard capabilities for each business unit, pulling real-time data from transactional systems and direct user input.” Having a clear picture will help you better estimate your project goals.
Include your end users in the process.
Your end users know their content and business systems better than you, so why would you not include them? Get them involved early and often, have them participate in the testing, and give them visibility into the project requirements and planning. The more involved they are, the more likely they will adopt the resulting platform.
Map out your information architecture.
Nothing is more important to SharePoint than a solid information architecture. A strong taxonomy will make your platform usable, searchable, and functional. Map out your site structure, navigation, and all of your custom content types and site templates. Having a clear map will also help you to understand your future governance needs, and where you will need resources to manage SharePoint going forward.
Conduct thorough capacity planning.
You can’t truly conduct your capacity planning until you complete the previous steps, as they can dramatically change your perception of what the system looks like. Assuming you have solid requirements, end user input, and a plan around information architecture, you can then estimate site, list, and content database throttles, and your future growth needs. And don't think that because you're moving to Office 365 that you don't need to do some degree of capacity planning. Find out about the thresholds and limitations of sites and site collections, and plan accordingly.
Build out a balanced schedule.
Be sure to include time for planning, testing, and post-deployment review (lovingly known as the post-mortem). This will help you to keep the project business-focused, and provide for continuous feedback from stakeholders and end users – which will help with the overall success of the deployment. Overall, it’ best to deploy in steps, dividing and conquering, and building on successes.
Train people on the new platform.
Don’t assume that people understand even the basics of SharePoint. Even if the effort is an upgrade, provide training and tools so that there are no barriers to adoption. If you’ve built your platform around specific business solutions, you’ll want to train people on the new ways in which they’ll accomplish their jobs.
Microsoft has done a fantastic job at marketing the power and ease of use of SharePoint -- however, the typical environment is a bit more complex than the datasheets and online tutorials would have you believe, and you should always go into it with a plan.
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