IA Value | Packaging and templatizing SharePoint sites, content, and structure

July 15, 2020
The original article is published on the Microsoft Tech Community SharePoint Blog.

[Co-authored by @Susan Hanley and @Mark Kashman with guidance from @Melissa Torres]

Having a solid information architecture (IA) is an important prerequisite for realizing a well-maintained and well-performing intranet. Good IA helps people find what they need and accomplish the tasks they want to complete – in a way that makes sense to them. A great IA helps improve user adoption, satisfaction, and productivity, reduce IT cost, reduce information overload, and minimize governance compliance and bad information risk.

Great IA takes good planning. It requires knowledge of the domain or content, understanding the user and user experiences, and awareness of approaches and best practices in Microsoft SharePoint. An important best practice is providing a consistent experience for everyone.

SharePoint powers your entire intelligent intranet and the intranet architecture (IA) is vital. The above diagram references logical site groupings and adherence to design consistency throughout.SharePoint powers your entire intelligent intranet and the intranet architecture (IA) is vital. The above diagram references logical site groupings and adherence to design consistency throughout.

Many people complain that going from site to site across their organization’s intranet feels disjointed. Each site looks different from the other with similar types of information scattered in different places. While it’s great to allow site owners flexibility, without some basic design principles and guidelines that can be applied consistently, the impact is costly and time consuming – for both site owners and visitors.

The best way to ensure a positive experience for site owners and visitors is to establish design patterns for your intranet sites and use site designs and templates to ensure that the patterns are applied consistently on all sites.

Below, we will dive into the following areas + resources throughout:

  • Ensure consistency across all sites throughout your intranet scripting
  • Organizing with hubs that can organize themselves
  • Utilizing Microsoft Teams templates
  • Manage who can create Microsoft 365 Groups

On to the details…

When people in your organization create new SharePoint sites, you want to ensure a level of consistency across all sites or sets of sites. For example, you may need consistent:

  1. Branding, theming for look and feel
  2. Library or list configurations to help people achieve more and ensure metadata alignment
  3. Functionality by configuring settings, features, extensions, and solutions
  4. You may also have detailed site provisioning scripts, such as using example designs from the SharePoint Look Book, that can be applied each time a new site is created.

Applying a new site design to a SharePoint site.Applying a new site design to a SharePoint site.

All help make your intranet more governable, consistent, predictable, and more usable on day one – for each project, team, event; a more automated, intranet-as-a-service – at scale.

Let’s breakdown how it is done…

Planning your site designs

  1. Audience targeting site designs (for sites and hubs)
  2. Setting a single default design for your tenant
  3. Applying to existing sites, tackling updates after the initial setup
  4. Extending their power via PnP and reference Look Book examples

When people in your organization create new SharePoint sites, you often need to ensure some level of consistency. For example, you may need proper branding and theming applied to each new site. Site designs are like a template. They can be used each time a new site is created to apply a consistent set of actions. They can also be applied to existing modern sites (group-connected team sites and communication sites). Most actions typically affect the site itself, such as setting the theme or creating lists. And a site design can also include other actions, such as recording the new site URL to a log or sending a notification.

When the actions in the scripts are completed, SharePoint displays detailed results of those actions in a progress pane.When the actions in the scripts are completed, SharePoint displays detailed results of those actions in a progress pane.

Learn more about how to design and use SharePoint site designs and site scripts.

SharePoint hubs connect and organize sites based on preferred organizational attributes. You can associate both existing sites and enable new site creation from within hubs themselves. And associated sites can be a mix of team sites and/or communication sites.

Once connected, hubs determine the connected sites’ theming, navigation, search, news, and content rollup, and visitor permissions. And to take this even further, you can use site designs to further customize (adapt) each connected site to programmatically assert content and site customization for desired outcomes.

The combination helps ensure consistency across projects, departments, divisions, regions, as you organize and save time throughout your teams – throughout your intranet.

Here are a few examples:

  • Ensuring a consistent approach for project sites – and facilitating management of a portfolio of client-specific projects. A company has a business unit that does projects for a variety of customers. There are multiple projects for each customer. There is a client manager for each customer who needs an easy way to access and roll up content across all the projects for the customers whose portfolios they manager. The business unit wants a way to ensure that each project is executed in a similar way, leveraging resources from the Project Management Office (PMO). The architecture decision is to create a hub for each customer – and use the hub site to store shared assets (such as deliverable templates and customer contact information) for the customer portfolio. To ensure that all project sites are created consistently, they use a site design for project team sites. Each time a new project is created from the customer hub, a script is run to apply the design template, ensuring that both look and feel as well as shared metadata is applied consistently in all project sites. The key outcome is that all project sites share a common structure and when team members work on more than one project, they can easily find and share the information they need. Moreover, the client relationship manager for each client can use the hub “roll ups” for easy visibility into the status of key deliverables across all projects in the portfolio.
  • Sharing consistent metadata and home page design. The global legal team for a large organization wants to ensure that all local legal sites follow a consistent design and share common metadata for legal documents. A site design is created that incorporates a home page layout for all legal sites, a standard set of pages, and a document library with shared metadata attributes. The script is run for all new legal sites that associate to the Global Legal hub but also for local legal sites that are linked rather than associated to the Global Legal hub. In this example, local legal teams have the option of associating to a geographic hub rather than Global Legal if the sites are created in local language. Shared metadata values are stored as managed metadata so that when there are updates to values, all the legal sites are immediately updated. When a new column is required, the site script is re-run to ensure that all sites are updated with the new column. This approach empowers local legal teams to focus on content rather than structure as the create their legal sites. It also ensures that search consistently finds critical assets no matter where they are located with the use of shared metadata for all legal sites.
  • Creating a common look and feel for intranet sites. While many organizations leverage more than one hub for different geographies, functions, or portfolios, some smaller organizations start with one hub for the intranet. To ensure that each intranet site starts with a consistent look and feel, sites are created with a site design that ensures, as an example, that the Site Owner is always displayed in the lower left hand corner of the home page and frequently needed links are always in a narrow column on the right towards the top of the home page. By ensuring that each site follows a consistent pattern, visitors know that they can always easily find someone to help them (by scrolling to the bottom of the page) and that the site owner has carefully curated links to the most frequently needed items and applications on the right side of the home page. This ensures that visitors can quickly execute their top tasks on each site. However, since the pages follow patterns aligned to user expectations, visitors also know that they will be able to browse and search for content to help them find what they need and get back to work.

Planning your hub sites

SharePoint hubs provide an important building block for your intranet. They are the “connective tissue” you use when organizing families of team sites and communication sites together.

One of the key principles of modern intranets based on Microsoft SharePoint is that each unit of work should get a separate site collection to optimally manage governance and growth over time. Each communication site and Microsoft 365 group-connected team site is created as a site collection that can have its own permissions. A hub (commonly created from a communication site) should also be considered its own unit of work that brings together numerous other sites.

All organizations need intranets that make it easy to align experiences with the way you work and that can adapt to the inevitable changes in the way you work. This is a key benefit provided by SharePoint hubs; they model relationships as links, rather than hierarchy or ownership, so that you can adapt to the changes in the way you work in a dynamic, changing world.

Learn more about planning your SharePoint hub sites.

Setting up a hub site design

Sites can inherit the hubs site design when they are initially associated to the hub.Sites can inherit the hubs site design when they are initially associated to the hub.

Easy for people to create sites from hub

The Contoso Travel HR communication shown here as a part of the HR hub site, Web view on the left, within the SharePoint mobile app on the right.The Contoso Travel HR communication shown here as a part of the HR hub site, Web view on the left, within the SharePoint mobile app on the right.

You can automate tasks such as creating, removing, or controlling permissions for hubs. You can also control a site’s properties when it is becomes a part of an established hub – its theme, list and library structures, content, permissions, etc..

Learn more about setting up your hub sites.

Teams templates are pre-built definitions of a team's structure designed around a business need or project. You can use Teams templates to quickly create rich collaboration spaces with channels for different topics and preinstall apps to pull in mission-critical content and services. Teams templates provide a predefined team structure that can help you easily create consistent teams across your organization.

Use Teams templates for people to save time and adhere to predefined team structure.Use Teams templates for people to save time and adhere to predefined team structure.

Learn more about how to get started using Teams templates.

AKA, manage who can create sites, teams, plans, and more. Creating Microsoft 365 Groups is meant to be easy for collaboration agility. Depending on your business, however, you might want to control who can create groups. You can restrict Microsoft 365 Groups creation to the members of a particular security group in Azure Active Directory (AAD). In turn, this equates to whom can create Teams teams, SharePoint sites, Planner plans, etc. It is easy for admins to establish and manage who can and cannot create Microsoft 365 Groups using Windows PowerShell.

Admins manage who can and cannot create Microsoft 365 Groups.Admins manage who can and cannot create Microsoft 365 Groups.

Learn more and get started today.

One of the most important goals for well-used intranets is to share and leverage organizational knowledge. Traditional intranets are typically not much more than a collection of sites. Modern intranets provide a collection of experiences that align to business outcome goals and initiatives. Creating great experiences for users means that you need to focus on the content and task stories that the visitor needs to accomplish – not just the content and stories that the site owner wants to tell. Establishing a consistent (and flexible) pattern for sites helps site owners of each individual site optimize their information architecture to create the best visitor experience. Stories that can be told, read, and understood.

Site designs and site scripts allow you to quickly and consistently create sites that incorporate your organization’s preferred design patterns and governance. This allows site owners to focus on quality content instead of page layout and ensures that site visitors can quickly find what they need. Hubs extend the ability to create optimal experiences by allowing you to create families of related sites that work in concert to improve user experiences with shared navigation, scoped search, consistent designs and connected content.

Package and templatize to optimize and balance. The happiest of sites and site owners are those that spend time creating content – furthering the business – not fumbling through site structure. And with known structure, IT can better support, meet “customer” expectation, and maintain a realm of policy and predictability.

Thanks, Susan Hanley – Microsoft MVP and IA / KM expert and Mark Kashman – senior product manager (SharePoint/Microsoft)

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