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10 questions to ask your users before you create a SharePoint Site for them

Having spent a good share of my career as a SharePoint business analyst, SharePoint project manager and SharePoint consultant, I have had a chance to participate in lots of various SharePoint Business Requirements sessions. Naturally, none of the sessions were the same. They all differed in terms of content, structure, duration and excitement. However, in many cases, when clients were just migrating to SharePoint from file shares or older versions of SharePoint, I started to notice a similar pattern in terms of my questions to the audience.

So today I want to share with you those basic questions that help me define future SharePoint sites. These are the same 10 questions I ask my current clients before I create anything for them in SharePoint. I also would like to explain the reason for each question and what the answers would yield you in terms of the information you might need to provision the sites in SharePoint.

Never bother with writing lengthy SharePoint Business requirements specifications for Sites. This is a waste of time for you and your end users. Just walk them through the 10 questions below and you will be good to go!

Question 1: What is the Business problem you are trying to solve?

This, in my opinion, is the first and most important question you need to ask your end users. You really need to have this question answered, otherwise you would not be doing what you are doing in the first place. At the end of the day – there is a reason why you are migrating to SharePoint, right? May be it is because of disorganized file share or file duplication, requirement to have single source of truth, business process automation, desire to merge multiple repositories, desire to share externally. Whatever it is – you need to understand the intent of the solution you will help create for your end users. If your users can’t answer this one – I suggest you do not proceed with remaining questions.

Question 2: What is the business purpose/objective of proposed SharePoint site?

Too many times I see clients trying to define metadata and content types of existing documents they are trying to migrate, without really understanding what that would mean from user experience. The folders, metadata, content types or document libraries for that matter don’t exist in space. They will be part of a site or sites. So the first question to answer is what kind of site you are building. What is the business purpose or objective? Are you building an HR Employee Department site, meant for everyone within the organization or HR (internal) team site for HR staff? Or may be a project site to manage projects? Kind of need to know the answer to this question first to set the context of the remaining meeting.

Question 3: Where does the content currently reside?

Once you figured out the business purpose of the site, you need to understand where the content currently resides. If you will be creating multiple document libraries, task web part or calendar, you will need to gather and migrate content from somewhere. So the answer to this question will help you understand your migration scope. Are the documents on someone’s laptop, network drive, DropBox or Outlook email? Where will the information for Calendar come from? What about tasks for Task Web Part? Will stuff come from MS Project or populated right in the task list?

Question 4: What is the volume of documents?

Have you ever seen situations where you come to a site and there is a single document library in there with 25,000 files all in one library? I have seen it, many times. And that is the reason for this question. Recreating your file share in SharePoint is not a good idea for many reasons, 5,000 limit being one of them. So the answer to this question will tell you how you might want to break apart that gigantic file share. At the end, you might end up with multiple sites, may be multiple libraries on a site, etc.

Question 5: Will all the documents/content be migrated or we will start fresh?

Kind of related to Question # 2, this one will tell you if you need to migrate existing content or your users will start fresh. I never see organizations migrate everything anyway. You might want to clean up the files shares first anyway.

Question 6: Who will have access to the content?

This question is getting into security aspect of SharePoint. The best practice in SharePoint is to manage security at the Site level. So the answer to this question will tell you who needs to have access to the site you are going to create and what kind of permissions these users will have. You really don’t need to know the names just yet, just major groups of users and their permissions (Read, Contribute, Full Control).

Question 7: Who will not have access to the content?

The opposite of previous question, this will tell you who should not be in the security groups. Also, since security is inherited from the top site, the answer to this question will tell you if you might need to break that inheritance and do some unique security/permissions setup. For example, if you created an HR Employee Site and have given all your employees read only access to that site, the HR Team subsite you decide to create underneath will need to have unique permissions, with “Everyone except external users” group removed from the site.

Question 8: Will any of the content be shared externally? (outside of the organization, i.e. client or vendor)

This is another important question you want to make sure you have answer to before you hit the “New subsite” button. The best practice for external sharing is to create a totally separate site collection, totally separate from your “internal” site collection (Intranet). This will ensure that your “internal/operational” sites like HR Department will really stay internal and will not accidentally be shared with someone’s Facebook friends. So if the answer to this question is “Yes”, in almost all cases, you are better off creating a new site collection in your SharePoint environment.

Question 9: How are documents organized right now?

The answer to this question will give you insider information about how the documents are organized now and also give you some ideas/clues about how they might be organized on new SharePoint sites. The typical answer to this question is: by folders. But you are looking for actual characteristics, like folder names. For example, each folder is a client or project name, etc. This gives you a good idea that one piece of metadata in SharePoint might be client list drop-down.

Question 10: What other content might be stored on the SharePoint Site? (besides the documents)

Most tend to think about SharePoint as another file share and document repository. It is obviously more than just the network drive. SharePoint can store all sorts of content, like lists, calendar items, tasks, contacts, etc. So you do want to understand those non-document requirements as well. Might be a great opportunity for you to show off things like SharePoint Calendar, Contacts, Tasks, Announcements, Discussion Board, etc.

So now that you carried your users through these questions, what do you do next? I suggest you check out this post about phased approach to SharePoint implementation.

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