SharePoint Basics: Building Out a New Tenant

With SharePoint and Office 365, the trick is to identify the minimally viable features needed and only add more features when needed. Avoid over-design.

By Cathy Dew

Even seasoned SharePoint Owners benefit from a review of needs and solutions

Our team at 2Plus2 has been working with SharePoint since 2001, and have been through all the ups and downs of the application’s release cycles over the past 17 years. As the product has matured, we have changed our approach to how we introduce the application to clients that are starting from the ground floor. We’ve also found that a review with established clients as they move from basic to intermediate to advanced knowledge of SharePoint and Office 365 is necessary to make sure the most immediate needs are being solved.

Start with your biggest pain point

When working with clients and their SharePoint integrations, we try to get them to focus on their biggest issue.

  • Do they need corporate wide communications?
  • Do they need to increase departmental communication and collaboration?
  • Or maybe their project and cross matrix teams need support?

And within those areas, what are the largest “communication” issues that need solving?

  • Document collaboration and approvals?
  • Document availability for end users?
  • Event notification?
  • Knowledge Transfer?
  • News / Announcements?
  • Task management?

Once the target level of the organization and the biggest communication issue has been identified, we can start building out a SharePoint solution that solves the immediate needs and grows into the secondary and tertiary needs.

Keep the starting point simple – build up like a 3D printer

Because of all the different features within SharePoint and Office 365, you can easily over design the intended solution, delaying application acceptance unnecessarily. The art within the science is identifying the minimally viable features needed and only layer on additional features when they are needed.

With Document Libraries, you should start with the top 4 or 5 metadata attributes needed for each content type. Additionally, build just the 2 or 3 content types you need immediately.

When building Event Calendars, break up the calendars around single issues or projects and layer them into one or several centralized calendars as needed.

Building News and Announcements can get bogged down into too many categorizations and filter attributes.  Like Events, keep categories down to the bare minimum and focused on single issues, projects or departments. You can always aggregate the news and announcements using Search Query Web Parts.

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With all the features in SharePoint and Office365, it's easy to over-design the intended solution

Landing pages for team, department and corporate sites are always feeling the pressure to put “everything and the kitchen sink” on them. By now you should be used to wielding a scalpel and cutting down the information presented to just the important elements: a quick news/announcement summary, a top 5 list of upcoming events, at minimum a set of links to important document libraries, or maybe a list of most active documents, and contact info for the site owners. Avoid building out custom tabbed content areas and menu fly-outs for phase one. Wait for feed back from the site users on what else might be helpful and design around those needs for phase 2 and 3.

With Workflows, don’t try and map the full process needed all at once. Business processes can always benefit from simplification, so don’t build a new workflow without justifying all the steps needed before hand. And then build your workflow to support the most important approval and touch points first, you may find that the combination of process improvements and digital approval significantly streamline your workflows.

Keeping the Stake Holders in check

One of the biggest challenges we find is not with identifying the critical features needed, but with keeping the stake holders down to the bare minimum. When building from the project or team level and up, the pool of stake holders is self-limiting – and additionally can break along departmental lines. But as the site features being implemented increase in audience scope, the stake holder pool increases. Designing-by-committee degrades quickly when there are too many members providing input and competing agendas.

Work with your client to keep the phase one stake holder list to just a few members. And create a phase two committee with a couple of additional people to provide their input for the next round of feature adds. Lining up the stake holders to the feature sets decided upon via the pain point analysis is critical to keeping the project moving forward and solving problems versus endless discussions on a large feature list.

Building your Audience

Like stake holders, your initial audience of users should be kept low enough to manage feedback and reports – but in this case, you do want to cast a wider net to make sure each feature set you are releasing is exposed to a wider variety of user types. Once you have proofed the new features in semi-real-world usage, a full rollout can be started. Look at tapping your phase one audience to evangelize the new features within the company. These internal super users can be great assets in promoting the new features whether the target audiences are team specific or corporate wide.

Also make sure you have several options for self-directed training. We’ve found that targeted Wiki’s and short 1- to 2-minute videos can provide a great start for self-training as well as the seed for a new corporate knowledge base.

Training your Admins, Content Editors, and Librarians

Along with training your audience, you need to cover training your front-line support: Librarians, Content Editors, and Site Collection Admins. The average job/task responsibility is 18 months before it’s handed off to another person due to transfers, promotions, and other company changes. The critical part here is to have a simple process to store and update task and how-to information for reference by current admins and the training of new ones. Adding stress to the documentation tasks is the now constant changes being implemented and activated within the Office 365 environment. You will find building Wikis for discussing and outlining Administrative functions is helpful, if you empower and incentivize your super users to update and manage the Wikis. Documentation buried in Word or PDFs can become too cumbersome to edit and mange as your administrative responsibilities grows with each feature release.

Continuous Improvement

After action reports are not only for feature roll outs, but also needed to verify the next targeted feature releases. Has something else become more important? Could a change in the development process allow you to reorder or improve the feature rollout schedule? Has a new feature become so popular that accelerating phase two and three takes precedence over other features? Maybe the new workflow has shown the company that there are huge gains to extending the new design to other business processes. Don’t let your rollout schedule become immoveable. Changes are the rule not the exception, and how you adapt to new pressures is key for continued updates.

Are you ready to put a robust plan in place to manage your company’s SharePoint and Office365 installation? Then do not hesitate to connect with us for a complimentary consultation. Go online to schedule a free consultation with our team or call 510-652-7700 today.

Cathy Dew
Cathy Dew – CEO + Information Architect
Cathy focuses the company on our mission – Real results. Every time. Information architect and strategist, Cathy is passionate about making software work well – the function, the feel, the result.