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Best way to implement SharePoint in a large organization

Posted on February 21, 2019

As a SharePoint consultant, I mostly focus on small and medium-sized organizations. However, over the last year, I had a chance to consult for and help implement SharePoint in some really large organizations: a large medical device manufacturer, a university and an engineering company. So with this post, I would like to share my observations as well as share some tips and best practice in case you need to implement SharePoint in a large organization.

Tip # 1: Top-down SharePoint implementation never works

One thing that never works for businesses small or large, is top-down implementation. What I mean by that is the fact that many try to think this thing through way too much with endless business requirements documents, and impossible to understand architecture diagrams and design documents. I had a large client who spent two years working with a large consulting firm to document various business requirements and Visio diagrams for its endless list of departments. At the end of two years, the client got some really expensive bed-time reading materials, but no collaboration or progress with the actual implementation. Sounds familiar? I am very sorry, did not mean to.  :-(

implement SharePoint in a large organization

True, in large organizations specifically, every department, every business unit has its own wish list and business processes. So if you want to make SharePoint implementation successful, you need to address that. But you don’t do it by endlessly interrogating your users and documenting every little detail in a document. What you have to do is “migrate the celebrities first.” I talk about what this means a little later in this article.

Tip # 2: Do Not generate RFPs

Anytime I receive an email from a prospective client with a 20-page RFP or RFQ or a 50-page “business requirements” document, asking me to provide a bid for the “project”, I hit the delete button. Why? Because with SharePoint Online and Office 365 changing daily, your requirements documents will become obsolete the minute you finish typing them up. And there is no way in hell, any reasonable consultant or a consulting company can commit to a bid, knowing that the way we collaborate will change by the time RFP is approved.

Tip # 3: Cloud makes it easy to implement SharePoint in a large organization

If you are migrating to SharePoint Online (Office 365) (I hope you are), the cloud makes it so much easier for you to plan and execute. True, with on-prem installations, you kind of had to do things top-down. You needed to calculate storage, figure out server architecture, buy equipment, hire an army of IT people, a lot went into the planning. With Office 365, you don’t need to do any of that. Just take the number of employees, multiply by per-license cost and that’s your budget.  :-)

Tip # 4: Flat Architecture makes it even easier

You got another bonus with the new flat architecture we now have in SharePoint Online. In the old days, we used to create lots of subsites in a site collection. This required us to think through the site architecture, figure out site collection and subsite structure first before we could create a new site for you. Not anymore. With flat architecture and Hub Sites – you don’t have to think about this. Just create a site (collection), connect it to the hub, and you can always re-organize things later as you wish. It is like eating pizza. Does not matter which slice you start with – the result will be the same.

Tip # 5: Implement in phases

You probably heard about the Broken Windows theory. The idea is that if you have a run-down neighborhood, one of the ways to revitalize it and reduce crime is to fix the broken windows and rebuild the look and feel of it. Well, the same concept, in my opinion, applies to SharePoint. Pick a department or a business unit, move it to the cloud from file shares, get in shape in terms of nice looking and functional SharePoint sites, spice it up with some metadata. Once one “neighborhood” is up and running, trust me, the others will follow.

Tip # 6: Move in “celebrities” first

This is actually a phrase that one of my clients used once. I liked it and sharing it with you here. In the real world, when you have affluent and famous people living in the neighborhood, it usually goes up in value and becomes more upscale. Well, with SharePoint, you have to have your celebrities too. And you always do. You always have users who are tech-savvy, who are open-minded and want to be the first ones to try out the new technology. Users who want to move to the cloud, start collaborating and who are, most importantly, excited about the change. These are your “celebrities.”  These are your people. These are the users who are your “on the field” warriors and SharePoint advocates. These are the power users who will train others and help you spread the good word about SharePoint. These are your future Governance Committee members.

Having the above “celebrities” is super important from User Adoption standpoint and the overall success of the project. Hold on to them. These are the users you want to migrate first!

Tip # 7: Do not involve many people in decision-making

A large organization often means that everyone wants to have their “2 cents” in how SharePoint should be set up or how it should look like. It is OK to have a large project or implementation team, but you only need a  few decision makers (IT team + few folks from Communications/Marketing). Because if you have tens of people weighing in with their “opinions”, let me tell you something, honey, this thing is not going anywhere. I once participated at a meeting with 20+ attendees, where for two straight hours we were trying to decide whether we needed to have a calendar on the main Intranet landing page. It was a @#$% torture. Don’t do it!

Tip # 8: Forget about Custom “Branding”

Another big show-stopper! How many times I heard “Oh, we can’t roll this out, because it does not fit our corporate branding standards”. For @#$%’s sake, I am just trying to collaborate with my teammates. I don’t give a sh*t that the team site I am collaborating on has a different shade of “blue”. You don’t brand Word and Excel, why SharePoint?

Tip # 9: Eliminate the Red Tape

OK, I’ll just say it out loud, something you already know. Large organizations tend to be very bureaucratic, with lots of processes, internal regulations and requirements even to do something as simple as creating a SharePoint site for a few users so they can start collaborating. That does not work well with (successful) SharePoint implementations. Look, contrary to what many SharePoint consultants want you to believe…

SharePoint is not rocket science!

Tip # 10: Just Do It

This tip is inspired by Nike’s famous slogan. Nothing “bad” will happen if you let a small subset of users (“celebrities” from above) to just start using the system, test things out, collaborate internally and share externally. This step does not need a “management approval” or a Governance Committee blessing. Because if you don’t give your users the tools – you know what they will do? They will find a way to collaborate using own DropBox account or Google Drive. And that’s “bad“.

About Me

I’m Greg Zelfond, a U.S. based SharePoint consultant, and I provide affordable out-of-the-box SharePoint consulting, training, and configuration assistance to small and medium-sized businesses all over the world.

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