field of snow geese, ready to take flight during migration
PHOTO: Ray Hennessy

SharePoint migration continues to be a popular topic for administrators and business owners alike at SharePoint Saturday and other local events. Even in the context of presentations I make on other topics — from transitioning to the cloud, to the adoption and engagement issues surrounding Microsoft Teams, Yammer and other key workloads — migration inevitably comes up. 

While it's easy to get caught up in the latest user experiences and platform capabilities, many of the issues experienced in making the transition to the cloud or in consolidating multiple environments solutions can be identified — and mitigated — through detailed migration planning. Of course, the many Microsoft partners in the space have created powerful tools to help manage the complexity of a move, but risks remain regardless of the tools you use. However, proper planning can dramatically improve the speed and decrease any risks associated with your migration.

SharePoint Migration Strategy: Plan, Plan, Then Plan Some More

You've heard the old adage "Fail to plan, and you plan to fail." Whether moving from an outdated SharePoint 2010 environment to a SharePoint 2019 on premises environment, or developing a phased strategy for moving multiple farms and file shares over to Office 365 over the next 12 months, by considering certain project management and business analysis fundamentals you can avoid some of the most common SharePoint migration pitfalls.

  1. Don't rush the process. Ensure you have the right people involved, and the right scope for your migration. Small mistakes in rushed planning cycles can lead to huge gaps further down the road, which can be expensive to overcome. In SharePoint, data model and taxonomy flaws may not show up for months down the road — and it is harder and more expensive to correct those problems later.
  2. Identify all of your customizations. If you’ve performed previous SharePoint migrations, then you likely have run into the pain of digging through error logs to find out why a migration failed, only to come across a rogue web part or custom site design. As Murphy’s Law dictates, these failures always happen at the most inconvenient time: over a weekend, during crunch time. In addition, they usually cause the maximum amount of duress to you, your management team and your end users. It is critical to identify all customizations within your system, and then identify whether they can be replaced by out-of-the-box (OOTB) capabilities, can be upgraded to the new version of SharePoint, or need to be re-built (or re-purchased from a third party tool provided) to meet future growth needs.
  3. Don't treat all sites and end users the same. Three out of four teams may use SharePoint out-of-the-box, but treating that fourth team — with their custom workflows, extensive dashboards and customized integration to the CRM system — the same as the rest would be disastrous. Why? The OOTB sites should, in theory, migrate cleanly, but the fourth site will need care and hand-holding. Treating these sites the same could break the customized site, leaving the team that actually uses SharePoint in turmoil. Understand the individual needs and requirements of each team, especially your power users — the folks who depend on SharePoint day in and day out.
  4. Build out a testing schedule. Migrations are iterative. This is because different teams, sites and site collections have different priorities and requirements. You need time to validate what has been moved both from a technical standpoint, and from an end-user standpoint. A robust migration strategy allows for verification that permissions, navigation, look and feel, and content are all working as planned.
  5. Have a rollback plan. A good project manager has a plan for and mitigates all risks with a solid rollback plan. Why should a SharePoint migration be any different? You may be able to recover from problems caused by rushing into the process, not identifying all of the customizations in your environment, treating all of your sites the same, and not employing healthy test practices –— but you will not recover (without severe pain) from roll back failure (one of the reasons why in-place upgrade is rarely recommended). So plan accordingly. Have your backups ready, otherwise Mr. Murphy and his Law will likely join you on this little endeavor.

Related Article: Running a Content Migration Project? Don't Forget Your Business Leads

The One Guarantee With SharePoint? You'll Migrate Again

Migration is an opportunity for your organization to clean up, transform and realize your collaboration vision. It is not just a technical activity, but should be a much more thoughtful and planned process.

Something else to consider: Your migration efforts are also a huge leap forward in building out your ongoing change management practices. Moving all of your content from one system to another is a regularly occurring part of the SharePoint experience. While new features like Hub Sites make an administrator's life much easier by giving business owners and end users more flexibility and control over the content they consume, the reality is the needs of your business and the evolving/maturing technology will require migrations from time-to-time, so consider that in your planning now — and build out systems and processes that will last over time.

Related Article: Digital Workplace Change Management Requires a Multi-Pronged Approach