[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.
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:
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:
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
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.
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:
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
Easy for people to create sites from hub
You can automate tasks such as creating, removing, or controlling permissions for hubs. You can also control a site’s properties when it 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.
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.
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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