I recently had yet another client who had used SharePoint like a filing cabinet inserting folders for every category imaginable and new libraries for anything with slightly different metadata (columns). They even created subsites to keep it all separate!

They wanted me to migrate everything to their new Office 365 site. The mess I found was disheartening as it would be time consuming and costly for the client. Almost 100 subsites were created as the client created one for each little thing – client site, department, project, library, etc. There were also over 150 libraries! Needless to say, the migration and cleanup would be significant. The resulting cost, of course, was dismaying to the client.

My proposed redesign would have consolidated the site into just 33 subsites and fewer than 40 libraries using site columns, Enterprise metadata and categories instead of folders.  The client was very excited until they saw the cost was far above their project budget.  They decided to let their office assistant give it a go even though she had no clue about metadata.  I fear their cluttered mess will remain a mess.  They even declined my offer to guide the person they were assigning to the work as they felt a filing cabinet app is satisfactory, no matter how cluttered it might be.  They did not care about Best Practices.

I cannot imagine administering a site like this as the plethora of libraries, redundant metadata (46 columns to change for office locations!), navigation challenges, etc. was mind boggling.  Nowhere was a site column employed, nor any hint of Enterprise metadata. No categories, no document sets, no views, no grouping, not even sorting was being employed!  No wonder the staff was intimidated by the site! It was a maze that users entered with a sigh and plan for to be there awhile to find what they wanted.

I cannot stress the importance of investing the time and effort in planning your site and especially lists and libraries.  A site hierarchy map (even a simple bullet list of sites, subsites and content (libraries, web parts, etc), can be immensely helpful to an architect and make building the site much easier for all involved.  Relationships between metadata where columns are the same and only views are different can greatly aid in consolidating the site.

With proper identification of metadata in each library, site columns and Enterprise metadata can be set up to consolidate administrative changes in multiple libraries to a single task.  No need to enter each and every list\library to correct the pull-down list or column header.  Lists and Libraries are among the most powerful tools SharePoint offers in a collaborative environment making sharing and administration immensely easier for all involved.

SharePoint and Office 365 are not create and forget tools.  Just like any system or filing cabinet, it requires constant administration, updates and cleanup (some of which can be automated via workflows).  In an ideal world, each subsite and list\library would have an administrator assigned to them.  Unfortunately, one person usually gets assigned the entire kit & kaboodle as site admin.  This can be a lot of work in a large site.  But proper administration makes the user’s job a lot easier.  After all, who wants to spend an hour tracking down a document or form?

When creating a library or list, it is vital to understand the following concepts in your design (remember that metadata is another word for columns):

  1. Use Site Columns for commonly used metadata like Office Locations.
  2. Use Enterprise keywords where people use multiple terms for an item (i.e. checklist, tasklist, guide form).
  3. Use Grouping and filtering instead of folders to present items of a certain category or date range or by people or department. This can be done for subgroups as well.  Clicking on a plus/minus sign to open\close a group  is actually easier than opening a folder!
  4. Use Views in other ways to present your data instead of a myriad of folders.  Think about permissions, departments, viewer types, and the different ways the content needs to be presented.
  5. Use Document Sets to present related items from different libraries as if they are one library (do not duplicate items in multiple libraries!).
  6. Administer your library and it’s workflows to be sure old content is properly moved to an archive or deleted and everything is working properly.

As with most things in life, proper planning is critical to efficiently moving through a task and\or accomplishing a goal. Just like a filing cabinet, putting a little thought into the organization of your site and lists\libraries can make future work much more efficient and keep everyone happier.

A hierarchical map or even a bullet list can work wonders in organizing your site\list\library.  It is amazing how a graphical view of your organization’s content processing can clarify how it all works together.  Also, getting input from the users can aid in the design and workings of your site\lists\libraries and make everyone’s jobs a bit easier.

These few steps can save you all kinds of headaches down the road, especially when you hire a consultant to migrate to a newer site.  It will save you money and the consultant a lot of time.


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