10 Considerations for a SharePoint Transformation

Whether upgrading from an older version, consolidating multiple instances or versions, migrating from other cloud platform, and/or simply reorganizing, a SharePoint project is not just a technical activity – it can be a metamorphosis. More and more companies are beginning to understand this as they read case studies and talk to other organizations who have recently migrated, or as they reflect on lessons from their own previous migrations. For companies looking to move to Microsoft 365, I would suggest you actually slow down on your upgrade plans in order to spend more time planning, taking advantage of this move as an opportunity to rebuild, redesign, and to transform your environments to better align with business goals and to utilize Microsoft 365’s full potential.

But where should you start? On which areas should you focus your planning? Going through my SharePoint research notes from a couple years back, I was reminded of the dozens of interviews that I conducted with SharePoint admins and consultants who were in the midst of their migration planning. I was able to capture some of their “best practices” and add them to my own guidance for those about to make the move. While not an all-inclusive list of things to include in your planning, you may find some of these suggestions helpful:

  1. Simplify your environment. Many organizations maintain more than one SharePoint version. Use migration as a path toward consolidation – wherever possible – allowing you to decommission and repurpose hardware, possibly moving part or all of your content to the cloud, and simplify your life. Reducing the number of systems you maintain may not be an option (based on the enterprise features you employ, restrictions with moving into the cloud, and/or the size of your end user population), but migrating from earlier versions of SharePoint to one version will at least lessen the administrative (and licensing) headaches.
  2. Do a thorough content audit. Before you move a single file, become familiar with what is out there today, the activity around it, whether there are legal/compliance requirements at play, and — most importantly — whether it needs to be moved, can be archived elsewhere, or deleted.
  3. Standardize your site structure and templates. SharePoint gives you the ability to centrally manage templates and structure, while allowing people the freedom to create and collaborate within that structure. For the long-term health of your environment (and future upgrades), standardize as much as possible, and always create your templates following best practices and within the SharePoint framework.
  4. Consolidate your content types. As you review your existing environment, this should be one of the first steps – especially if you have a goal of centrally administrating your taxonomy. A clear map of your content types, the sites that consume them, and the teams / admins who own them will help propagate your plan.
  5. Refine your keyword taxonomy. As with content types and folders, it is important to outline your top-level taxonomy, and work with your teams and business units to delve into the site, and site collection-specific keywords. Just understand that this is an iterative process which will continue on past your current deployment, requiring ongoing management as part of your regular governance operations.
  6. Build a consistent navigation. Migration is a great opportunity to clean up, simplify, and unify your navigation so that it makes sense to your end users, helping them find the right content – in a logical site structure.
  7. Clean up your folder structures. One of the major shifts that happened waaaay back with SP2010 was the move from folders to metadata — which was expanded in SP2013 and newer versions. While metadata and taxonomy should drive much of your architecture, there may be organizational and business process reasons for retaining folders. Flatten what you can, but understand the requirements for keeping folders in place and how they may impact the search experience for your end users.
  8. Tighten up your permissions. Hopefully your migration is not the first audit of your permissions health, but either way – take this opportunity to do some deep analysis on users and administrators within your system and clean house. Some suggestions: make sure the right people have access to the right content, delete users who are no longer in Active Directory, and give people access through groups rather than direct access.
  9. Leverage new functionality. Whether on premises or online, there are many new features that may not have factored into your previous strategies. Understand what is available in the platform, and – equally important – what custom aspects of your older environment can now be displaced by out-of-the-box capability.
  10. Improve (or begin) governance. One of the best practices that you will hear shouted from every SharePoint evangelist is the importance of governance. SharePoint is not a shrink-wrapped product. It takes thoughtful deployment, personalized configuration, and ongoing governance to ensure your organization gets the most out of their investment. If you do not already have a governance body in place, think about starting the process now, including key stakeholders, admins, and end users.

As you prepare your SharePoint environment for migration, it’s always best to begin with a plan in mind, and iterate with your team on how to move forward. These are just some of the basic steps to transforming your legacy SharePoint environments as you prepare to migrate to the latest SharePoint version or to Microsoft 365. Obviously, there is much more to do. But hopefully this gives you a place to start down your planning and migration path.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and M365 Apps & Services MVP, and an award-winning product marketer and technology evangelist, based in Silicon Slopes (Lehi), Utah. He is the Director of North American Partner Management for leading ISV Rencore (https://rencore.com/), leads content strategy for TekkiGurus, and is an advisor for both revealit.TV and WellnessWits. He hosts the monthly #CollabTalk TweetJam, the weekly #CollabTalk Podcast, and the Microsoft 365 Ask-Me-Anything (#M365AMA) series.