I’ve been in the SharePoint world for many years, both as a consultant and as a client. In that time, I’ve had great opportunities to perform SharePoint development with organizations in the public and private sectors, and I recently finished a large SharePoint project for an upstream oil and gas company. In my experience, nine times out of 10, my job is to either “clean up” SharePoint or “automate” one of their business process in SharePoint – fundamental issues that could have been avoided with the right pre-implementation planning. So, if you are considering a SharePoint implementation, here are seven takeaways to ensure that your SharePoint environment is fundamentally sound and can better accommodate downstream changes needed by your corporate users.
- Establish Requirements – Get a good grasp of your user’s needs, including pain points both in SharePoint and their business process as well. When gathering requirements, it’s important to engage the user community, so take the time to learn what they are currently doing and what changes they want by holding “walk through” sessions with users of their current process. If you get to know your daily user, it will help you define priorities and success criteria.
- Define Standards – As Henry Ford famously said, “You can have any color car you want, as long as it’s black.” While automakers have come a long way since then in terms of colors, standardization is what allowed them to support high demands and keep their costs low. Your SharePoint solution needs to be very similar in scope. This is where really knowing SharePoint features and functions comes to the fore. SharePoint provides a lot of out-of-box features that can usually meet the user needs, and it can be integrated with third-party solutions such as Nintex or K2 to extend SharePoint’s native functionality. Using these will help standardize your solution and keep costs low compared to custom development.
- Build an Effective Solution – Effectiveness in SharePoint deployments includes mapping your business requirements with technical requirements, and knowing SharePoint best practices and its out-of-the-box features. Understand SharePoint’s limits to avoid later frustrations from the users. For example, if your workflow exceeds 100 actions, your solution will likely cause issues by randomly erroring out or not starting at all.
- Define Archival Policy – Oftentimes workflows, tasks, and lists will be created for a solution, but what happens after the tasks and workflows are completed is ignored. Don’t wait until a year after the solution is deployed – or when your task list has reached its limit and your SharePoint is running slow or not running at all – to define an archival policy. Define workflows and how completed tasks are handled when developing your solution.
- Encourage User Adoption – As with any deployment of a software tool, SharePoint solutions require an adequate adoption strategy. Define user roles and responsibility for your solution, provide relevant training to the users, and train your support on other possible issues that can occur.
- Provide User Documentation – A big part of being a SharePoint Consultant is providing guidance to my clients, so at the end of any engagement I make sure my clients have learned proper “care and feeding” techniques for their SharePoint environments. Provide through user and development documentation. Few developers like doing documentation, but having the documentation on hand will save you time when your solution needs to be updated. It also is a great way to keep your clients informed on what is in their environment.
- Keep It Simple – Overly complex solutions can bring processes to a halt. What matters is having the proper insight of SharePoint and your client needs and using that insight to deliver high-quality solutions.
Lastly, once SharePoint has been successfully deployed, it is important to gather user feedback so that you can make continuous functional improvements to your SharePoint environment. And those improvements will be much easier to deploy when your SharePoint environment is built on a solid foundation.