Thoughts On SharePoint Design & O365 Deployment

One of the more frequent questions I get asked by schools is “how should I design my SharePoint intranet?” and, with the recent addition of Microsoft Teams for Education, there is no shortage of options to explore in this place. Nevertheless, choice can lead to confusion and I read a great blog post this morning entitled “Modernizing Your Approach to Site Architecture in SharePoint and Office 365” that provides some excellent advice in this space.

There is also a good update of “what’s new for your intranet in O365?” from Microsoft that is worth reading in conjunction with the overview below.

Stephanie Donahue, who authored the post, finished off by saying:

I’m a big fan of rolling out Office 365 in phases.  This makes for happy end users and a helpdesk that isn’t overwhelmed.

There is a lot of wisdom in that comment alone, however I do encourage you to read her entire post as I won’t extensively recreate it here.

Read the post here

The main thrust of her advice is to move towards a flat site architecture. In the past, the approach was to keep a clear division between content that is to be consumed by ‘others’ i.e. the public or your wider company staff, and that which should be secured and accessible only by your team or department. In practice, this looked something like the following:


With Modern SharePoint sites and Microsoft Teams, Donahue suggests that Microsoft has come out and advised against using sub-sites, yet she still recommends adopting a practice that keeps a clear separation between content that is for “publishing” compared to content that is for “collaboration”. In essence, this may look like the following (note the inclusion of Office365 apps like Teams, OneNote and Planner sitting seamlessly alongside SharePoint):


Finally, there is advice for when to use each of the following components:

  1. Classic Team or Publishing Site
  2. Communication Sites
  3. Microsoft Teams for Collaboration

It’s the third one that interests me as I see schools racing to adopt Teams to become the “digital hub” of the classroom, with the teacher and students seamlessly communicating via the persistent conversation tab, OneNote Class NoteBook and other tools. However, in the context of a wider staff collaboration platform, the use of Teams needs to be considered alongside the SharePoint sites as well i.e.

  • Where do the “master resources” for teaching get stored securely?
  • What about assessment templates?
  • Where should staff performances / reviews be stored?
    • Actually, a popular choice I see in schools is using Staff OneNote NoteBooks owned by the Head of Faculty or Deputy Principal
  • Staff Handbooks and onboarding documentation ?

Clearly, schools need to consider not just what happens inside the classroom, but also the wider information published to staff and indeed even to Parents and Alumni. The above advice in the blog post from Stefanie Donahue is definitely worth a careful read.

I am always keen to discuss what I've written and hear your ideas so leave a reply here...

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