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How to implement SharePoint in your organization – Best Practices

The first question I get from the potential clients ready to get going with SharePoint is: “Where do we start?” On one side you have to manage your day jobs, manage employees, you have your data, information, documents, content all over the place and on another side you have a very capable , configurable and customizable, but very overwhelming little monster called SharePoint. How do you get this thing moving? How do you approach this “implement SharePoint” thing? What is the first thing we should do?

With this article I hope to demystify and respond to these questions. I also want to highlight the fact there are many ways to implement SharePoint and this post shares approach based on my experience with SharePoint implementations/roll-outs in various organizations, ranging from small business and nonprofits to large enterprises.

SharePoint Implementation Tip # 1: Implement SharePoint in phases.

Moving your whole business to SharePoint in 1 big project is a sure guarantee of failure. You have to break it down into manageable mini-projects. For example, you have this vision of SharePoint with multiple project sites and team sites, department sites and various portals and repositories. That’s good. But don’t roll out all of it at once. From User Adoption and Change Management perspective, this will be a lot for your users to digest. Break it down into manageable phases, use “thing big, start small” approach, create a plan and implement phase by phase (site by site).

SharePoint Implementation Tip # 2: Pick an easy target / quick win for Phase I.

Now that you agreed to implement in phases, what do you choose for Phase I? Hint: you want to make it real easy on yourself and your users. I always recommend that clients roll-out just 1-2 SharePoint sites initially. A great candidate in many organizations is a site storing company’s policies and procedures. It is a great candidate, because the content usually needs to be accessed by the whole organization (so it will force your users to access SharePoint). Moreover, there are only a few content owners for such sites (content owners = users who can edit and modify content). Majority of your users will be content consumers (content consumers = users who will have Read-Only access). So from security standpoint – it is a relatively easy setup. Besides, with Policies and Procedures, for example, there is no external sharing involved. So you don’t have to worry about that little monster (more about external sharing in future blog posts).
So here we go, your Phase I is defined: Policies & Procedures site + homepage (you have to have a friendly homepage for your employees!)

SharePoint Implementation Tip # 3: Move away from folder structure and into metadata

If you are making such a huge leap anyway (by moving your business to SharePoint), you have to consider new, modern ways to organize your content. I advise that you leverage the power of SharePoint by moving away from folder structure and into Metadata. Example above (Policies and Procedures site) is a great candidate for it. While metadata concept can be intimidating for your users who are used to storing documents in folders, the example above is a great way to “ease” them into the concept. Why? Because typically, policies and procedures is an easily structured data set. It is far easier to wrap your heads around this than any other data you have.

Do I need to move everything to metadata? Being a SharePoint metadata advocate and author of very popular “12 reasons folders in SharePoint are a bad idea” blog post, it would seem that metadata is the only way to go in SharePoint. Not necessarily. The rule of thumb is to move from folders to metadata only if data can be structured and is shareable with lots of people in an organization. Example: If you have Marketing department site with 2 people working in that department, responsible for company’s logos and marketing brochures, and folders work just fine for them, don’t convert them to metadata – let them continue their work in folder environment (unless you want to your users to hate SharePoint). On another hand, if you want to share those same marketing materials with the rest of organization and present in a logical manner with beautiful user interface – surfacing them up on a separate Marketing Portal in a metadata format might be a good idea.

SharePoint Implementation Tip # 4: Let your users/employees determine your next phase of the SharePoint implementation.

Once you rolled out Phase I, start soliciting feedback from users right away. As they become more comfortable with SharePoint, ask them which site or functionality they would like to see next. You will score lots of points in the User Adoption department and will automatically get their buy-in for the next phase. May be it will be a Department site. Or may be a team or project site. Or may be a site to share files with external vendors. Whatever it is, you will have a pipeline of phases / work cut out for yourself with buy-in from employees (which is most important!)

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