If you are a regular blog follower you are aware of my emphasis on design whenever I talk about SharePoint. I tell most of my clients you will either design your environment before you deploy or after, but you will design it. I recommend the design process take place in the beginning stages, as it is usually easier, more effective, and will give a good impression of the technology. There is a cultural shift in thinking that takes place when migrating from a file share system to SharePoint. Using metadata and views instead of folders is just one example of that.
What I have found is that even with my emphasis on design, many people still do not understand designing the taxonomy (aka the data). There are many different ways you can tackle designing your data. You can utilize technologies such as Unified Modeling Language (UML) or you can use more simple techniques such as card sorting. While I have documented many UML diagrams, for SharePoint I prefer the more simplistic method of card sorting. I have several articles regarding card sorting in previous blogs.
So, here is an example of a basic card sorting exercise I did with a group of employees this week. Helping them design their intranet and team sites for finance, sales, and human resources. See my blog article on definitions of sites for a clear understanding of intranets and team sites. In this example we used post-it notes as our index cards. I had the HR dept create their list of items, but I had people from the Finance and Sales departments organize the data for HR. This allowed the people in HR to see how outsiders would look for the information. I think this is a valuable lesson as the number one issue people have is not being able to locate their data.
If you try to organize all of the data yourself, you are sometimes too close to the data. You may understand all of the department specific terminology, where people outside the department can say “I don’t understand what that means”. In addition, the way you might organize something within a department may not translate outside the department.
While the exercise can take time, what it provides is several benefits. First, you are involving end users in the design process. This is a huge benefit as they are the consumers of your data and will help you see things from their perspective. Second, you get buy in from the users to the new technology. This may be the biggest obstacle you have to overcome. People want to help. By asking a few people outside of your department to help you organize your data you will usually end up with a more effective way of creating your Web site. Finally, these end users that you recruit can become a champion of the new technology and help other users adapt to the change.