4 steps to ace SharePoint migrations

Introduction

Migrating SharePoint is never easy. Many may want to make it seem easy. And from a high-level point of view it definitely looks easy. But looks can be deceiving, once you get down to the nitty-gritty you’ll soon realize that you should be well prepared if you want to do a successful SharePoint migration.

There’s all sorts of pitfalls to avoid like spending too much time, not mitigating involved risks, failing to assess user adoption impact, and managing end user uncertainty. Let us show you how to make your migrations succeed in 4 simple steps.

1. Explore

The most crucial step in SharePoint migrations is probably exploring the environment you need to migrate. In-depth exploration goes a lot further than just listing which sites and libraries to migrate: Are there workflows running? Are links referring outside of SharePoint? Is the document ID service running? Do you need permalinks? You need to create a comprehensive overview/inventory of all libraries, links, etc. to be able to migrate without hiccups.

Furthermore a migration offers an opportunity to do a big clean-up of unused/outdated content. People tend to use SharePoint just like they do with their local drives. And let’s be honest, (sometimes) it gets messy. We are taught from a young age that regular cleaning is necessary to keep our room, our house and our front lawn tidy. But when it comes to computer drives and SharePoint libraries we don't follow those rules. So start cataloging (and deleting) the stuff you don’t want to migrate anyway.

Finally, once you have cataloged and cleaned-up, you need to check the current security and permission sets. This is another ideal time to review the evolution of your security governance over the past few years. What was the intention of the security & permission rules when you launched SharePoint, and how does this look a few years afterwards? This is a great opportunity to see how those decisions panned out in reality, and it should help you make better decisions regarding security & permissions in the future.

It’s important to use this 'exploration phase' to align all stakeholders. Don’t just inform everyone via the company intranet to say they should clean-up their instances, or check their permission rules. Instead use this opportunity to create a game plan, involve stakeholders, and make sure the plan is being followed. An added bonus is that this is also step 1 of your change management strategy!

2. Analyze & Build

Once you have a good look at what your environment looks like today, it’s time to start planning.

Migrations typically happen for several reasons:

  • The end-of-support period is coming closer (help!)
  • You are migrating (a part) to the cloud
  • You want/need more features and want a new version

So, when migrating, most of the time it’s to an environment that has a different feature set. Whether it’s from SharePoint 2013 to 2016 or SharePoint 2013/2016 to Office 365, feature sets need to be mapped somehow.

A good example is a feature change that has gotten mythical proportions: meeting workspaces in SharePoint 2010. Loved by many users, deprecated by Microsoft. If such a site template exists in the inventory you just made, what are you going to do with it?

It’s important to understand the target platform really well and know what it can do as well as how you can bring together existing features with as little custom development as possible. However, you can’t always avoid custom development. So you have to analyze the needs of each part in the inventory, and design and build an alternative if needed.

Just to make sure you get the complexity of this step, think about a few examples:

  • Content types: do you have support for all fields in all content types? Are some fields custom developed? Has the content type hub become a necessity?
  • How many master pages do you have? Have they been modified according to guidelines? Is it easy to rebuild them in the target environment?
  • We all kind of hate site templates, except the end users. They love them, and you need to maintain them. Who knows what some users may have created. And let’s not bring the Publishing features into play, please!
  • Managed Metadata can also be a lot of fun: did you manage your term sets properly or have they grown wild? Did you delete terms that still exist on individual documents?
  • Provisioning: SharePoint kind of started disliking solutions and features, so how will you provision templates and content with a future-proof strategy?
  • Even though Microsoft strongly advises to keep branding to a minimum, how many companies actually listened? I hope most of them, because branding is definitely a risk in your migration.
  • Whether you use SharePoint Designer workflows or Nintex, they are a threat to your migration. Can you migrate the workflows correctly? Are they still deployed to the same location in the target environment?
  • Many intranets like to beautify landing pages with customized site pages. But how customized are they? Did they use webparts only or custom layouts as well? Are those web parts migratable? Are they in the plan?
  • Will users navigate in the same way in the target environment? Are there evolutions in navigation patterns that you should adopt? I’m sure these questions will keep you up at night. But if you think about each one and document what you want to do with them, the next step will go so much easier.

3. Try-out

Don’t start migrating in a production environment. There’s too much change in a production environment to even think you’re going to get it right the first time. You will fail the first migration run, I assure you. Most likely the next couple of runs as well. And that’s exactly what this step is for.

Fail Fast

Just like Babineaux and Krumboltz’s book, you need to “Fail fast, fail often”. Only by failing to migrate can you update your migration plan to make sure that mitigation remedies are in place. Another benefit is that improving your migration plan will enable you to do your production runs without (m)any hiccups.

A key part of this step is to ensure end-users test your first 'practice migrations' on a different environment. This resembles software development methodologies because … well, you are building new things to match user requirements, even if SharePoint is out-of-the-box. So make sure you have a strong change management and communication plan installed. Including end-user feedback during testing, will allow you to refine your plan and make it more robust.

4. Go live!

Once you’ve set up and executed enough test runs to ensure that your process is stable, you can start worrying about going to production.

There are a few migration paths you can follow:

  • Convert your test environment to a production environment, the data is already there anyway.
  • Do a 1-to-1 migration from test to production. You’ve already ensured that the test environment has all data and custom development installed and tested, why not just start migrating from that environment?

Next to that, you should realize that migrations take time. You probably already learned this lesson during the previous steps. You’re not going to migrate 1 TB of SharePoint content in 1 hour or during the monthly IT maintenance window.

Users will continue to change things during your migration, and that’s why an incremental (“only changed items”) migration is preferably done once or twice after the initial migration. This ensures that all data is moved and that recently changed data is also incorporated into the new environment.

Don’t forget your change management plan. Things to think about: what are you going to do with OneDrive for Business synced libraries that users have loved working in? And how will you convince users to remap their OneNote notebooks and other hyperlinks? Have you told them to move the documents on their personal sites? Well, you shouldn’t be asking yourself these questions anymore during this step. You had the “Explore” step for that.

Conclusion

It doesn’t matter whether you stay on premise or go the cloud, migrations will always be tough and risky. An organized and well-thought out approach like we described is vital for the success of your migrations. Last but not least we would like to point out some tools that will make your life easier.

Sharegate Desktop

Well, this solution was kind of the elephant in the room. It is the de facto tool to do SharePoint migrations these days and offers great value for money. Sharegate has two products: Sharegate Desktop and Sharegate Overcast. The latter is to control and optimize Azure costs, and Sharegate Desktop helps with migrations and classic SharePoint Management.

The migration portion of Sharegate Desktop offers everything you need to support the approach we described. It can be used to explore and create your inventory and to do dry-runs (“Pre-check reports”). The solution will effectively migrate all of your content without any volume restrictions. It is user friendly, looks fresh & clean, and doesn’t need much explaining to get started.

The management portion is also very practical. It will help you prepare the Explore phase to discover permissions and content locations. It will also help you schedule clean-up tasks, find large content, find stale users and permissions, copy user permissions, and report on most aspects of SharePoint. In the new Sharegate Online tool, you can even set up alerts to get updates on suspicious activity on your tenant for instance.

Check out Sharegate's website for more information.

Valo

Another suite of tools we love is Valo. We definitely advise you to take a look at Valo. They won several awards the past years, such as Best Intranet / Extranet (won in 2016 & 2017) at the European SharePoint Conference.

Valo has several products that can help you get the most out of your new SharePoint environment.

  • Valo Intranet: Easy to use and beautiful solution with great communication and collaboration capabilities. Using Valo will drive user adoption and supercharge your Office 365 or SharePoint environment.
  • Valo Teamwork: Find and manage your groups, team sites and collaboration tools. Available as an add-on to Valo Intranet or stand-alone.
  • Valo Idea Management: Collect and nurture ideas using gamification. Get creative and involve your team. Available as an add-on to Valo Intranet or stand-alone.

    Learn more about Valo here.



    LoQutus is a Microsoft, Sharegate, and Valo certified partner

    Microsoft Partner

    Valo Partner

    Sharegate Partner

    For more information, please contact us:
    info@loqutus.com

    Written by Sebastiaan Mindreau, Lead Strategist Digital at LoQutus.
    Edited by Dries Lamont, Marketing Manager at LoQutus.