10 Stages to Successfully Deliver a Departmental Document Management System using SharePoint

~SharePoint Document Management

The creation and delivery of a Document Management System (DMS) within SharePoint appears to be the most common request that is received as a consultant. Many companies also approach us for the creation of an Intranet, but once again this is a doorway into the DMS system. I have put together 10 stages that I believe will keep you and your organisation on the right track when moving to SharePoint.

Please note you may wish to add in a Stage 0 and “Call the Experts”, as consultants like myself and those in AMT Evolve can lend their knowledge and experience to assist you through this process.

Stage 1: Business Requirements Workshop

It all begins with Project Initiation and Scoping. An organisation will take the steps and measures to begin moving to SharePoint and will ensure that they build a team to manage this process, along with any external consultancy experts as required.

A high level workshop will need to take place amongst the core Project Stakeholders, Ambassadors, Managers and Specialists to determine the Business Requirements, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and Objectives. They are in a room to answer the question “What makes this project successful?”

Furthermore, high level decisions will need to be made as to the structure of the DMS. This may include a plan of how the organisation expects their departments to be broken down (e.g. Public, Private, Confidential, Management etc…) and document metadata (e.g. Document Type and Language) that needs to be captured as mandatory requirement.

The output of this workshop will need to be documented, circulated and signed off before progression to the next stage.

Stage 2: High Level Proof of Concept Design and Development

After receiving sign off the project team must progress into building a High Level Proof of Concept (POC). It is likely that this may only focus on a few departments for example purposes. Therefore, it is important to make a decision as to which areas of the business will work best when demonstrating to the organisation e.g. The Board is not a good example as it will be a site that is not frequently visited by all members of the organisation.

One of the first articles I wrote for Linked-In, “Piloting Office 365 and SharePoint”, covered key points to ensure that Pilot Projects or POCs are not built in silo from the rest of the organisation. Please do give it a read for some additional tips.

Earlier decisions will have confirmed whether the POC is to be a “throw-away” piece of work or if it is to be the foundation of the full DMS system. My advice is to go with the latter.

Once the POC has been reviewed and signed off by the core project team, you can progress to the next stage of this process.

Stage 3: Departmental “Introduction to SharePoint” Workshops

Hopefully by now users are already aware of SharePoint and Office 365, as alongside your project you would have been managing a communications plans (but, that’s something for another blog post!) or you will have had users already making use of SharePoint.

The Core Project Team need to ensure that they recognise core champions of each department, to discuss document management matters. In some scenarios the entire department may be available, but, this is uncommon within larger firms. Common champions are Management, Team Leads, Personal Assistants or Administrators. Moreover, these users need to have some competencies in Information Technology as they will likely be passing knowledge and training on to their peers.

The “Introduction to SharePoint” Workshops should only require a couple of hours to ensure that the audience remains attentive. The aim of this Workshop is to introduce the SharePoint platform (perhaps for the first time), introduce the project and demonstrate the POC detailing how this will improve business efficiency. I like to refer to these workshops as “selling the benefits” so that users see the system as a great opportunity as opposed to a barrier.

This workshop should be ran as an open forum. It is beneficial to ensure that there is two way conversations occurring and this should be clear from the start. You may find at times that you are just sitting back and listening to conversations across the table, this is fine as it is where some of the best ideas come from, just ensure that you are able to casually steer these back on track when needed.

The attendees should finally be tasked to take some time and think things over, planning how the system could help them and spreading the message of SharePoint as a great Document Management System to their colleagues and peers who were not in attendance.

Stage 4: Departmental “Hands On” SharePoint Training

As an addition to the “Introduction to SharePoint” Workshops, there should be a small amount of training and “Hands On” usage to build confidence and familiarity. It is advised that this is added into the workshop format (of course with much needed comfort breaks) so as to avoid having to re-group the entire team at a different date.

The training should only need approximately 1 hour, depending on the skill set in the room. I would cover the following as standard . . .

  • Navigation
  • Creating folders
  • Creating documents
  • Uploading documents
  • Adding and editing documents and metadata
  • Collaboration
  • Retention rules
  • Version History
  • Delete and restore

Training should be tailored to the needs of the Business as confirmed in Stage 1, for example; if External Sharing is going to be an extremely important feature then cover this in the training session.

Stage 5: Departmental Requirements Workshops

We’re half way there, keep this momentum going!

So it has been a few weeks (no longer than a month!) since you got each individual department into the room to learn about SharePoint and review the systems that had been generated thus far. You may remember that we had set them the task to “think things over” and now we need to draw upon that knowledge and progress the project.

The second workshop per Department will be longer (likely half a Day) and more intense. It is not uncommon for less attendees to be present as there would be an expectation that the department has confirmed who they feel are the core personnel to continue as Champions. It may also be built into these staff members objectives which means they have a vested interest in making this a success.

This workshop is all about gathering specific requirements from each department, understanding the documents they work with, their current struggles and how this can all be improved.

This must be run as a white-boarding session, to allow the team to sketch out the relationship between all relevant departmental functions and documentation. This is to assist in capturing site structure, permissions, retention rules, metadata, content types and document templates. Department processes (that can be automated via workflow) may also be captured, but could formulate phase 2 of the system. Departments also need to recognise what documents need to be moved into the new system, as a document clear out is most beneficial before any migration takes place.

Individual scoping and specification documents will be generated for each Department and circulated to the Core Project Team and the Departmental Champions for sign off.

Stage 6: Extended Proof of Concept – Building the Document Management System

Now it is the time for the build, either through extending the current POC or by extending the knowledge provided by the POC, but, building the system from the ground up.

The feedback received from every department will first lead to the core structure being developed, as there will be many overlapping items (e.g. Metadata and Tags) that are relevant for the full system and not per department. This will then be followed by generating the DMS for each individual department based on their specification. This phase must also include internal testing and quality assurance checks – “does the system meet the requirements document?”

The build phase will differ for every organisation based on the number of departments, captured requirements, timescales and project resources.

Stage 7: System Handover and Training

Once the build phase has been completed, it is time to hand the systems over to the Core Project Team and the Departmental Champions. This should be delivered within a workshop setting to allow for demonstrations and some high level training to take place.

User guides, knowledge bases and guidance videos should also be setup to effectively “hand-hold” users through this process. At this stage dummy documentation should be used.

Stage 8: User Acceptance Testing

As with all projects and systems, UAT is of great importance to ensure that what is being delivered and released is fit for purpose. Once again live documents should not be used in this stage.

It is within this Stage that change requests and bug fixes need to be managed. Therefore, it is of paramount importance that the relevant channels and support structures are setup to maintain this.

UAT should be completed once all bugs are ironed out and the system has been signed off by all parties. It is a business decision as to whether change requests are progressed or added to a backlog for future phases.

Stage 9: Document Migration

Nearly there now!

The Document Management System has been built and it is now time to fully utilise the solution.

Requirements documentation that is generated in both Stage 1 with the Business and Stage 5 with the Departmental Champions should contain information about how and what documents are going to be moved. This will assist in understanding the best procedure to follow.

Migration can come in two forms, Manual or Automated.

Manual Migration can be achieved through simply setting file shares to read only, ensuring that users can then create new documents within the SharePoint DMS, or download from file shares and re-upload into the new system. Prior warning should also be given to the organisation as to when File Shares will be switched off in their entirety so that they are pushed to move required materials in an efficient manner.

Automated Migration can be achieved through using a selection of tools. There are many paid for solutions (of whom we partner with) and there is also the recently released Microsoft Migration Tool. This will allow for the movement of bulk documentation, although this should be handled with care as a standard “lift and shift” is of little to no benefit to the organisation.

Stage 10: System Support and Continuous Improvement

The project is completed and closed! . . . Is it?

So you have come this far and drawn a closure to a successful SharePoint Document Management System and Migration Project. Although I must say that no project in SharePoint truly ends as in reality this is maybe only just the beginning.

To truly make a success of this project you need to ensure that a good support structure is in place to assist your end users. You also need to allow for feedback and change requests (some of which you may still have in the backlog from your UAT) so as to continually improve the system and begin to build a roadmap for your DMS.

Stage 1 assisted in us capturing KPIs and Objectives, have these been met yet? What do we need to do to hit these targets or to go above and beyond? A SharePoint DMS is in place to improve business efficiency and continued monitoring and improvements can ensure this gets better year on year.


If you have stayed with me this far then thank you! I will keep my conclusion short; a great SharePoint Document Management System is achievable just ensure you do not rush into it. Follow a process to get the best out of your investment. Please do have read of some of my recent articles also covering Document Management.

Thank you for reading!

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This blog post was written by Steve Glasspool – Senior SharePoint Consultant at AMT Evolve.