SharePoint Knowledge Base

Jul 28
How to Make an Effective SharePoint Portal Strategy - Part 2

This is part two of this blog post, part one can be found here. Most organizations start SharePoint portal projects with ambitious visions of increased employee engagement, productivity, and innovation. Strategy is the link between visions and reality…the plan for turning corporate goals into real behavior changes.

Think Less about the Technology, and More about the Work

By now, you should be getting closer to answering the big question of, "How do I bring my organization's strategy to life through the design of our new portal?" You've got a list of corporate objectives that you need to contribute to. You've got a list of things portals are good at doing. But there's still something missing. And it's the most important ingredient in this whole thing: your employees and how they work.

The organization's objectives and corporate strategic intent will ultimately trickle down to everyone's jobs and will inform what people do on a daily basis. This is where big-S Strategy's rubber hits the road, brought to life in the actions of employees across the company.

You have two choices to address the relationship between what your portal needs to do and how your employees work. You can start with portal features and go looking for employee problems to solve with those features. Or you can start with employee needs and ask yourself, "How can our portal meet those needs? How can we best design content and enable features for our employees that derive the most benefit and create organizational value?" We recommend the latter – start with employee need.

The key to understanding where your portal fits in your organization's strategic context is to think less about the technology, and more about the work. Your portal users have jobs they need to get done. Their jobs are not to browse the portal, use a social network, or even share a file. Real employee jobs are more like this:

  • "I want to put this logo file in a location where everyone can access it so people stop asking me to send them the logo."
  • "I want to share my new idea so people realize how much value I bring to the table."
  • "I want to see what projects my coworkers are working on."


When you find a fit between what portals are good at doing and people's jobs to be done, your portal strategy will create real value.

Your portal's fit—the spot where your portal creates the most value for your organization—occurs where your features and content overlap with your co-workers' jobs to be done. If your strategy only consists of new features and content but not on the things people need to do on a day-to-day basis, you're missing a big opportunity, spending money that will never demonstrate a return.


Gain Insights by Talking to People

It sounds obvious, but one of the best ways to research and understand the jobs to be done inside of an organization is to actually talk to employees. Get away from your desk (and possibly your comfort zone) and find out how work really happens.

Of course, you may not have an opportunity to interview your co-workers before a strategy has been explicitly articulated for the new portal, but if given a choice, do it. That way your portal strategy is grounded in the practical, real-world needs of your co-workers.

Who are your portal users? Employees, managers, leaders—anyone you can get your hands on! The most reliable method for researching needs is through live interviews, either in-person or on the phone. Don't worry about the quantitative concept of sample size, typically associated with surveying. Interviewing is a qualitative method, performed to gain insights and new knowledge about your current situation. You want insights and ideas for what the portal is and might become, not statistical inference or validation of ideas across the organization.

Sample interview questions:

  • Describe the function of your department.
  • Describe your role.
  • What does a typical day look like for you?
  • What activities do you like most? Least? What is the most time consuming?
  • Who do you work with closely? What do you work on and how do you do it?
  • Who do you communicate with regularly? Why? How?
  • What are some of the barriers you see to communication and collaboration today?
  • What are the most important priorities and goals for your department right now?
  • What systems do members of your department use to get work done?
  • Tell me about the current portal. What do you like most? Least?
  • How do you think the portal could help you achieve your goals?


From Interviews to Portal Requirements

Your interviews will uncover dozens of pains that employees face on a daily basis. You'll get detailed descriptions of tasks you never knew existed. You'll hear about things the portal can help with, and some things it can't.

Now it's time to sift through those notes and play detective, uncovering facts, and returning to the question, "How can the portal help my co-workers succeed?" It means considering both the big statements of strategic intent, as well as the tactics used by employees in their day-to-day jobs.

At this point, you might start feeling a bit of vertigo in your research activities as you zoom from a leader's high-level statements about their mission to create sustainable financial growth, down to a clerk's detailed description of their business processes involving three Excel spreadsheets, a complicated piece of enterprise accounting software, and several Post-it notes stuck to the side of his monitor. Dizzy yet?

This body of data tends to yield three important insights about employee needs and jobs to be done if you stare at it long enough:

  • Whose need it is?
  • What the need is?
  • Why the need exists?


How to Write a Portal Requirement

As a (who) I would like to (what) so that I can (why) .

Turn this into a small 3-part statement that captures the idea:

  • As an account clerk, I would like to be able to update and publish my inventory numbers on the portal so that I can save time and reduce errors in managing three Excel spreadsheets that require giant email threads and versioning quagmire.

A highly practical activity, and one that you may have already performed prior to selecting a portal, is capturing those needs and codifying them as "requirements" of the portal software. The three-part user story format includes not only the "who" and the "what", but, most importantly, the "why".

At some point you'll need a detailed description of what you want your future portal to do. Your interviews are a great starting point to gather those things, link them to the corporate strategy, and understand the needs of your employees all at the same time. You'll start to hear the local "why"—the way strategy shows up in the everyday. Your job is to keep track of how those things map back to the global "why", and demonstrate how the concrete example of posting inventory numbers to the portal can help the abstract and global strategy of creating sustainable financial growth or improving employee productivity.


Do We Have A Strategy Yet?

Business objectives = Things portals are good at doing + Employee jobs-to-be-done.

It's time to shift focus from what the portal needs to look like and how employees will use it, and start to think about how you're going to pull this strategy off. It's one thing to talk about increasing collaboration in the organization through the use of the portal. It's another to bring that promise to life.

Your portal's strategy (what it can do for the organization) is different than your strategy for the portal project (how you are going to design, build, launch, and operate it). In order to realize the strategic possibilities of the portal (all of those great things you want it to do and benefits you want it to derive), you're going to need to address questions. Here are five questions, loosely based on a Harvard Business Review article called, "Bringing Science to the Art of Strategy," by Roger Martin and A.G. Lafley that outline the process of going from the big ideas you've gathered to planning the next steps.

  1. What are the goals or the objectives your team has set for your new portal?
  2. What conditions are needed in order for you and your team to meet the objectives you have established for your portal?
  3. What is needed to make these conditions a reality?
  4. What are potential barriers to achieving these conditions?
  5. What is the plan to deal with potential barriers? What do you need to do in order to avoid or mitigate them?


Examples of Turning Strategic Objectives into Tactics and Tasks

  1. What are the goals or the objectives your team has set for your new portal?
    1. Collaboration: The primary goal for the portal is to make it easier for geographically dispersed staff to collaborate.
  2. What conditions are needed in order for you and your team to meet the objectives you have established for your portal?
    1. Access: In order for dispersed staff to collaborate, they will need access to the software. Different groups will need different security access to certain content.
    2. Adoption: Employees will need to embrace the new system and change the way they currently collaborate.
  3. What is needed to make these conditions a reality?
    1. Create user profiles: To get portal access, employees will need user names and passwords. Depending on your organization, you may look at setting up Single-sign-on and Active Directory Sync.
    2. Set up team collaboration spaces: How will you organize team spaces and where will they live on the portal? The portal manager may want to complete an initial set up of all team spaces, or teach each team how to set up their own. Consider how you will manage security access to group content. Look at ways that you can move team processes onto the portal, and if any customizations or integrations are required.
    3. Training: To get the most out of the collaborative features, staff will require training on how to use the software. Training should be provided to give staff direction on what kind of content is appropriate to share on the portal.
    4. Onboarding: Finally, if a new team member is added, a process will need to be put in place to ensure they are added to correct groups and are trained on how to use the software.

You should have a firm grasp of the answer to question #1 at this point, through interviews, desk research, and meetings that seek to understand the strategic intent and objectives for the portal, the jobs that need to be done, and your organization's broader goals. You should be able to rattle off these items in elevator pitch fashion.

The rest of the questions take your aspirational statements of strategic intent and bring them back to the practical matters you'll face ahead, asking the questions: "What's going to derail my strategy? And what am I going to do about it? What tasks do I need to perform to mitigate the risks my portal is going to face?"

We believe the most useful tasks you can start on now are the answers to those questions. Managing risk effectively is how good projects survive and thrive.

  1. What are potential barriers to achieving these conditions?
    1. Still using old systems: Old habits can be hard to break. Once the new portal has been installed, employees may stick to communicating the same way they did before; whether that be through e-mails, shared folders, or other programs.
    2. Low adoption: Staff may be reluctant to share content and engage with the new portal because they aren't sure what is suitable to share with their colleagues.
    3. Competing priorities: Lack of resources is a big threat to any project. Projects can get side-tracked if there is no one to help with set up, or employees don't have time for proper training.
  2. What is the plan to deal with potential barriers?
    1. Migrate content and sunset old systems: Make a plan to move collaborative content onto your portal. The portal should be a source of truth for this type of content, so eliminating duplicates from old file folders and systems is important.
      Designate portal champions: Creating a team of portal champions from different departments in your company can help overcome the risks and uncertainties about how to use social software in the workplace. Having active users on your portal will encourage others to participate while setting a good example on how it should be done. These champions should be the first to receive training and will be instrumental in your launch plan.
    2. Tie portal launch to another business milestone: It can be strategic to launch your portal platform at the same time as another major company event, like an anniversary or employee town hall. Hard deadlines and increased visibility can help ensure your project gets the resources it needs.


Your Journey Has Just Begun…

Hopefully the fog is lifting and you have a better sense than when you started as to how you're going to tackle the question of the portal. Not only do you have a sense of the solution, you also know what problems you're solving. As you start to gain traction and momentum in your portal project, you'll continue to encounter some common portal issues that will shape and influence your journey:

  • Your portal exists in a multi-stakeholder environment and will require a degree of consensus amongst different departments and divisions before it can come to life. You will need to figure out how to deal with project and operational governance matters.
  • Your portal is filled with content that is only valuable when people can find it.
  • You will need to understand information architecture and content strategy.
  • Your portal is a new system that will require your co-workers to change their behaviors to use it and gain benefits. You will need to provide lots of communications and activities around engagement and change management.
  • Your portal is going to require a group of people doing lots of activities at the same time with a budget and likely a launch date associated with it. You are going to need to stay on top of project planning and project management.



  • Portals exist to help support your organization's strategy and create value for employees. Your job is to align the portal with that strategy.
  • While portals are highly engineered software products, they are not simple machines that generate guaranteed outcomes; portals are complex.
  • Certain things are more easily done through portals than other things; knowing these things will help you create value for your organization.
  • Your employees have jobs to be done; value is created when the portal helps them do those jobs better, faster, and cheaper.
  • Your portal's strategy and your strategy for the portal project, while related, are two different things; don't confuse them.


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