Managing the move to modern SharePoint

Although it's an exciting time for intranets and integrated collaboration tools, deciding to shift to a new intranet can feel like a daunting task – not only to ensure success during the design and implementation phases, but also after the launch.

A SharePoint intranet in the modern experience brings an exciting and seemingly never-ending roadmap of evolving and new features with its evergreen model. These changes also offer an opportunity to revisit the way you care for your intranet post-launch. Moving from a classic content hierarchy to the simplified flatter information architecture in modern SharePoint can present some pitfalls, but if you can get ahead of them by mapping things out early, you’ll save time and avoid re-work.

Modern SharePoint can both delight and challenge your traditional intranet practices. Drawing on our experience designing and implementing SharePoint modern intranets, we’re sharing a few of our new practices and lessons learned to prepare for the changes ahead and ease the process for your teams.

The readiness sprint

We always start our intranet projects by unpacking an organization's drivers and motivation behind their intranet upgrade or redesign; we care why you care! There is a need now more than ever to have a strong shared understanding among the business and stakeholders around what it means to move to modern SharePoint.

Taking a short intentional pause before the project kicks off to bring people up to speed with the changes we know are coming helps to mitigate a project stumble or slow down. This isn’t to scare anyone off; instead, we want to outline the conversations we know will happen with modern SharePoint and make sure they’re understood early in the process.

Here are some points we've learned to ask or discuss before we kick off a SharePoint modern intranet project:

Why modern now?

Who in your organization is driving this decision and what is motivating it? Understanding the group or groups who desire this change and the “why” behind it helps give us a better idea of their needs and what they want to get out of their intranet, quickly extinguishing any friction that may exist around those decisions.

Configure first

Microsoft generally recommends a “configure first” approach. We also recommend customizing only where necessary to avoid breaking features that Microsoft is continually rolling out. We start by revisiting the value or purpose of your current highly customized intranet areas.

Approaching the project with a "spirit of discovery”

The upgrade path is not 1:1 when moving to modern SharePoint, so curiosity and flexibility are key. Project milestones and signoffs still exist, but what was true at the beginning of design may not be true down the road. This can be due to new features Microsoft rolls out or if you uncover an existing behaviour that might pivot the design.

Being flexible

Because of modern’s evergreen nature, flexibility will also come in handy after your intranet launch when new SharePoint features are being released. If you’re overly rigid, you could miss out on a cool new functionality that is just around the corner.

Visual design guardrails

Designing in the modern experience may seem constraining at first. We like to talk about this early, as the look and feel is your intranet’s personality. We’ve proven that a powerful visual design experience is still totally within grasp; the solution is to approach it with a new lens.

Being prepared

Are those accountable for the health of the intranet (including business leaders) prepared for the rhythms or roles of evergreen model governance? We start identifying the roles and responsibilities much earlier with modern SharePoint to get folks aligned and onboard.

Clear content accountability

With modern SharePoint’s flatter information architecture and simplified permission model, you likely won’t be able to follow the traditional “lift and shift” content migration process. Get ready to clean house!

We’ve learned that once discovery has kicked off, it’s helpful to create a clear line of sight into content ownership and highlight areas of content that might need owners assigned. You’ll need to consider:

  • Permissions
  • How content is organized (multiple vs. single hub model)
  • The content authoring experience
  • Whether certain content on your intranet will be visited

Define ownership early

Defined accountability for all areas of content can take time, especially if you have a lot of legacy content. Getting clear ownership definition out of the gate saves so much time later down the road when you’re approaching migration and change management activities.

If permissions are very complex, IT and Business stakeholders may need to sit down and revisit policies. Modern SharePoint has simplified permissions.

Identifying those owners early also creates an opportunity to share the exciting coming changes that modern SharePoint will bring to their current information architecture and permissions. It helps identify “gotchas” during design and we want to give time to allow for necessary decisions to be made.

The evergreen governance experience

It’s exciting to work with a product that’s constantly releasing fresh features and functionality. With that comes a need for a fresh level of engagement from all those involved in your intranet’s life cycles.

Early in the project, we like to kick off conversations to identify who will fill different roles on the intranet team. These conversations continue throughout the project up to the launch, refining different roles and teams as they are assigned to support the intranet post-launch. Here are some key questions to ask:

Who is accountable for keeping an eye on the Microsoft modern SharePoint roadmap?

There will be new releases coming all the time, sometimes with little notice, and it’ll be important to have sight into what will be available and communicate that to the teams who support your own intranet roadmap.

How will you validate that those new and evolving features are of value?

Not only do you want to ensure that a feature adds value for your end user, but also that it aligns with the vision of your intranet and the greater goals of the business.

How will you ensure that the latest releases are in line with your roadmap?

More than ever, stakeholders will need to regularly meet as a collaborative team to make sure that changes being made are on the right track.

How will you test and release new features?

The modern SharePoint release cycle is much smoother than those big upgrade deployments of the past, but that testing and release rhythm is still important. When new or evolved features are released from Microsoft, what are the testing and release cycles in place? This is where the impacts of choosing custom features and design will show up. Testing and release hygiene requires attention to ensure custom pieces remain functional, as well as general functionality.

How will you ensure the proper volume of change management and training are available?

Consider how you will establish communicating and training for new evolving features in order to support the new functionality and keep end-users in the know.

Having a minimal viable product mindset

A short story about the shift from a “big bang” to minimum viable product (MVP) mindset with modern SharePoint…

We were working with a client who we had designed a custom work-around for some required Search functionality that wasn’t currently available in modern SharePoint. As we moved towards implementation, Microsoft announced that there was to be a release with the “custom” Search functionality coming to modern SharePoint a month or two after the client’s go-live date.

After discussing this with the client, they embraced an MVP mindset and decided to go live without the custom Search functionality and wait for the modern SharePoint feature that was coming a couple months past go-live. This was managed in the meantime with strong change management communications and training supports.

By making this decision, it allowed us to revisit how we spent that budget and reassign it to more valuable areas of the project. Additionally, it avoided the risk of creating a custom piece that might break with future releases.

The move to modern SharePoint is exciting. Like all projects, using the lessons learned in future work will only make things smoother. The move to modern SharePoint is both an exciting move and a great opportunity for a holistic review of your intranet health and supports. Happy upgrading!

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