Key SharePoint 2013 and Office 365 Methodologies and Best Practices

By Errin O'Connor posted 07-14-2014 12:50


Overview of Key SharePoint 2013 and Office 365 Methodologies and Best Practices


Over the past 10+ years (as I will try note to date myself too much), back when I started working with SharePoint 2001, back when it was code-named Tahoe in late 2000, alongside of "Project Central" (which would later become Project Server 2002), there have been identifiable and "repeatable processes" that I have seen work time and time again regardless of the size of the organization or the business vertical the company may be in. 

As I have worked alongside my colleagues at EPC Group (as they are really the ones that have helped perfect and rework these elements and I just get to take the credit here on AIIM's blog) in our SharePoint 2013 and Office 365 consulting practices, we have taken these "identifiable and repeatable processes" to drive the underlying methodologies, strategies and lessons learned that have stemmed directly from these initiatives executed within organizations of all sizes and from all business.

There are key methodologies and matching granular questions that must be put in place in your SharePoint 2013 and/or Office 365 implementation and the following are examples of these:

• Defining an “anchor application \ killer app” or key set of SharePoint 2013 features that will continue to draw users to SharePoint for many years to come

• Defining the granular moving pieces around regulatory and compliance issues for global and large enterprise implementation specific considerations

• Understanding the Cloud (i.e. Private, Public, Hybrid, SaaS, PaaS, IaaS, etc.)

• Defining (in your IT Roadmap) integration requirements for SharePoint and/or Office 365 with external data sources (Oracle, custom SQL databases, HR systems, ERP systems, Documentum, etc.)

• Best practices around developing internal Power Users and ensuring SharePoint’s continued growth and progression within your organization

• Social strategies that will ensure proper and governed enterprise buy-in

• Multilingual implementations and architecting a SharePoint solutions for 1 or even 1,000,000 (million) users

• Performance considerations across multiple data centers or locations

• Disaster recovery, business continuity, data replication, and archiving

• SharePoint content publishing best practices and implementing the “one version of the truth” concept

• Mobility, BYOD, and external security considerations

• SharePoint and/or Office 365 governance best practices and how to develop a SharePoint steering committee

• Implementing true records management (ECM \ RM) with SharePoint 2013 including working with your organization’s retention schedule and strategies around disposition, eDiscovery, and compliance

• Ensuring you put emphasizes on metadata and core content type discovery exercises

• Defining SLAs and strategies for long-term support of SharePoint 2013 and/or Office 365 as well as strategies around Microsoft SQL Server 2012 \ SQL Server 2014 and Windows Server 2012

• Understanding Microsoft Azure as well as other offerings such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) as they will come up in conversations with the business as well as other IT leaders

• Understanding developing custom apps, web parts, workflows, Apps, and solutions

• Content database sizing, SQL Server best practices, and shredded storage

• Identity management and authentication


Note: This is just a short subset of the methodologies EPC Group initially covers with our clients in our “from the consulting trenches” strategies to ensure your SharePoint 2013 and/or Office 365 platform is implemented right, the first time.

These powerful platforms can easily meet specific business and functional goals around implementing an organizational intranet, collaboration platform, enterprise content management (ECM) or records management (RM) solution.

Other organizations may be interested in implementing a professional (social) networking or business intelligence (BI) platform as well as rolling out workflows to streamline business processes while ensuring extranet and mobile compatibility. All of the elements mentioned above must be accomplished while staying in line with compliance and governance standards as well as well as mobility and your organization’s overall I.T. roadmap.

Time Tested SharePoint Deployment Strategies from the Trenches

There is a method to the madness and a way to implement SharePoint 2013 and Office 365 right the first time. It is key to think in terms of beginning the overall initiative by gathering the key stakeholders from multiple departments where you and the project team members can start to whiteboard the overall solution and SharePoint roadmap with its long-term success in mind.

This “Bottom-up SharePoint 2013 Implementation Approach” will open up the proper mindset for a successful implementation and ensure that roadmap development is initiated to take into consideration future phases and other possible initiatives.

If a SharePoint 2013 and/or Office 365 project fails or falls short of expectations, it is typically due to the hard questions not being asked or addressed due to time and budgetary constraints or the project team not having been “in the trenches” seeing the various types of “granular curveballs” that can be thrown their way.

For example, EPC Group was recently involved on an enterprise-wide SharePoint Server 2013 initiative with approximately 11,000 users and data centers in three different countries.

In the very first discovery meeting with the I.T. Director, he asked “how is your firm’s approach different from other consulting firms and why and how does your methodology differ to make sure this project is going to be a success? This is an extremely high profile project with just about zero room for error.

The answer to that question is based on the strategy of avoiding the typical “top-down SharePoint implementation approach.” When referring to the “top-down” implementation approach, EPC Group is referencing the “build it and they will come” mentality where SharePoint sites are implemented across the organization and allowed to proliferate without proper governancesecurity strategies, and the identity of a core set of content types that manage the actual types of content (documents, etc.) that SharePoint will be storing.

By allowing users to have too many permissions, like providing the ability for a user to create subsites within their departmental or project site and then be given full permission control of that new subsite can cause major content sprawl and non-governed growth.

Eliminating risks by applying proper governance will reduce the instances where content (i.e. documents, records, etc.) may not be protected in a manner to meet specific compliance standards or where three or four sites are created that are very similar in nature and end up going unused long-term.

The bottom-up SharePoint 2013 implementation approach is based around identifying, from the very beginning, the types of content that will be stored, the matching metadata or core content types for that content, as well as the types of users and possible scenarios that the organization may experience not only in phase 1 but in phase 2 or phase 3.

When referring to looking at a SharePoint 2013 and/or Office 365 initiative from all sides in a three dimensional way, I am referring to the project team members, both technical and non-technical, understanding at a high level how content is stored, secured, and accessed by users not only authenticated within their organization’s network but also by approved users who may be utilizing their laptop or tablet device waiting to catch a flight and sitting in an airport connected via a public Wi-Fi.

The mobile, bring your own device (BYOD), mentality is here and the strategy and policies must be addressed in your SharePoint roadmap for not only current staff but for those future clients or partners you may want to access to a “SharePoint supplier portal” or for staff to access business intelligence data.

If the more difficult SharePoint or Office 365 roadmap strategies are left unanswered and rather to be left to be answered at a later phase can end up costing the organization more time, budget, and risk because certain areas may need to be re-architected or redesigned to meet future organizational needs.

When SharePoint 2013 and/or Office 365 is architected without future phases in mind you also risk the possibly of losing buy-in and support from the user base which can stifle the momentum and long-term adoption of the platform.

Overview for Developing and Implementing Your Roadmap


EPC Group cannot stress enough the importance of addressing mobilityscalabilitycompliance, and governanceas soon as possible in your organization’s SharePoint 2013 and/or Office 365 | SharePoint Online initiative.

SharePoint will more than likely grow in content and user requests at a much faster pace than planned. It is critical to have your SharePoint 2013 support model and defined processes in place for managing end-user requests in the early stages of your SharePoint initiative.

Initial Roadmap Questions – Examples of Sample Questions from EPC Group

By thinking in terms of SharePoint as a Service (SPaaS) or SharePoint as a Platform (SPaaP) that will grow in size and importance over time, will help instill the strategy of SharePoint offering “services” to your organization and will open up the hybrid SharePoint implementation mindset. For example, some initial questions for any SharePoint 2013 implementation may start with:

  1. What technologies are the organization currently using?
    1. Are you already utilizing a previous version of Microsoft SharePoint? (Is SharePoint already installed, etc.?)
    2. If SharePoint is not currently utilized, what other technologies or line-of-business (LOB) systems are you trying to move away from in going to SharePoint 2013?
  2. What is the organization’s stance on the cloud and will you possibly be implementing only Office 365 or both SharePoint Server 2013 on-premises as well as Office 365?
  3. What are the initial goals you are trying to accomplish by implementing SharePoint 2013 and what are some other functionalities or offerings that SharePoint 2013 brings to the table that you see possibly being utilized in the future?

Note: This question is key because 90% of all SharePoint and/or Office 365 implementations end up being morphing into a hybrid environment to meet multiple organizational needs.



- Is a main goal of SharePoint 2013 to be a:

  • Intranet and\or collaboration platform for the organization?
  • Enterprise content management (ECM) \ records management (RM) Platform
  • Collaboration service for departments or team members to work together on to increase productivity?
  • A business intelligence (BI) or reporting service to offer things like dashboards, KPIs, and scorecards?
  • Workflow service or business process automation platform to help take existing paper-based processes and turn them into online forms with specific workflows?
  • An extranet that will allow your company to work more collaboratively with external partners, customers, or other approved audiences?
  • Internet facing SharePoint service to replace your company’s current website
  • Social and\or professional networking platform
  • Central platform to house or host your organization’s existing applications or custom applications?
  • Mobile or “edge device” type service to answer the BYOD questions?
  • Replacement of an existing system like Documentum, LiveLink, eRoom, ApplicationXtender, SAP, FileNet, DocuWare, eDocs, etc.
  • Learning Management Service (LMS) or training platform to reduce travel costs of staff or to provide a central location to increase or streamline organizational training needs?
  • Platform to allow you to migrate your existing network file share content to increase security as well as putting structure around currently unstructured content?
  • Are there AD groups around specific departments or are there also other custom AD and SharePoint security groups that were created to meet cross-functional projects or user security requirements?
  • What is your current virtualization strategy?
  • What type of storage are you utilizing and do you have any metrics around content growth?
  • Do you have more than one data center or possibly globally dispersed data centers or DR sites?
  • Are you currently utilizing or planning to utilize cloud-based or SharePoint online / Office 365 solutions?

- What does your organization’s currently Active Directory (AD) infrastructure look like and how is  it managed?

- What is your current hardware situation and\or strategy?

- What is the organization’s current mobile or BYOD strategy?

- What has worked well in the past to train your organization’s staff?

- Are there content owners or staff members that have been identified as possible SharePoint  Power Users?

- Is the organization looking at the Azure platform or other possible external hosting options like  Amazon Web Services (AWS)?


These are just a few initial questions but this helps set the stage around developing a SharePoint 2013 roadmap and implementation strategy that is forward thinking and addresses possible future needs

In your organization’s initial SharePoint 2013 envisioning and requirements gathering sessions, the goal should be to get as many stakeholders from different departments and/or divisions within the organization as involved as possible in the project so that they understand its overall proposed lifecycle and what may be expected of them.

Inevitably, there will be differing opinions from project team members on things such as the overall site structure, taxonomy, hierarchy, and even the security model around permissions strategies. The SharePoint 2013 and/or Office 365 project will likely be one of the most high profile efforts taking place in the organization and with that there is also the realization that many of the questions that need to answered or tasks that need to be accomplished will be assigned to staff with existing work already scheduled on other efforts and meetings already scheduled on their calendar.

This is an area where setting the initial tone of what is expected from the project team by its key stakeholders or project sponsor is very important. A SharePoint 2013 effort requires many elements to be done in parallel and if certain questions are not being answered or team members are left in limbo about the direction on a specific project task or milestone, it can cause major delays and team member frustrations.

There is also an intangible element around the creation of a SharePoint 2013 cultural adoption and change management strategy as part of the overall project effort that will drastically increase user buy-in on both the initial and long-term usage of SharePoint. Power users, sometimes referred to as super users, tend to not be included in initial SharePoint 2013 design sessions which is a mistake.

Identifying and Teaming Up with SharePoint and/or Office 365 Power Users

Identifying staff members who are excited about technology and are willing to be a SharePoint Power Users will provide a return on investment (ROI) in three or four major areas and the development of a Power User strategy is critical to the long-term success of your SharePoint 2013 and/or Office 365 implementation.

Power Users should be given initial training and SharePoint 2013 introductory materials very early on in a SharePoint initiative. These users may not have extensive I.T. backgrounds but they will be your “first line of defense” for championing SharePoint as well as assisting users in their departments or specified areas by providing answers to initial questions and getting the overall organization comfortable with using this game changing platform.

A best practices Power User strategy will not only will reduce the number of SharePoint support calls or Help Desk tickets by up to 50% but will also provide invaluable feedback as well as ideas about “quick wins” that I.T. may not have even considered.

From the very beginning of a SharePoint 2013 initiative, a large amount of SharePoint specific technical terms will be used and with the wide array of team members from different departments attending specific meetings, so setting up a SharePoint 2013 introductory training site is extremely valuable. Having a video library available for project members to access with short one to five minute topic-driven SharePoint 2013 videos and as well as a “common set of SharePoint 2013 terms” will ensure every project member is on the same page.

SharePoint training sites, frequently asked questions (FAQs), and related materials are typically designed and delivered near the end of a SharePoint project before going live into production, but a scaled down version of these with some core technical overview videos and documents, as described above, should be made available as soon as possible in your initiative.

Your project meetings and discussions with team members will be much more productive with a reference or specific example of what you are describing in terms of SharePoint 2013 rather than speaking in terms of an abstract technology. This is something that is guaranteed to kick-start your project and get some real momentum going very early on in your initiative.

EPC Group’s SharePoint 2013 & Office 365 Roadmap and Implementation Strategies “From the Consulting Trenches”

I will continue on this topic in blog posts regarding EPC Group's SharePoint 2013 & Office 365 Roadmap and Implementation Strategies in the days and weeks to come to touch on the real-world “from the consulting trenches” approach that EPC Group has successfully implemented for hundreds of organizations throughout North America.

These strategies are also detailed in my latest book, the one that kept me away from contributing to AIIM's blog for the past year or so, "SharePoint 2013 Field Guide: Advice From the Consulting Trenches"

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