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September 18
A SharePoint Migration Story | Part I: A Bear in the Woods

​​I used to take long hiking trips through the Adirondacks in upper New York State with some Canadian buddies.  These were long adventure-like trips, typically late fall or winter, with snow on the ground, all your gear on your back, hiking through some serious wilderness and you never knew what you were going to encounter.  Anyone who has been through a couple of enterprise class SharePoint migrations can likely relate – they aren’t easy, they can be long journeys and you never know what you’re going to encounter.  

Migration experienced consultants know that every migration is different.  A SharePoint migration can be like one of these hikes - you never when you’re going to come around some ridge and find a black bear in your path.

Our experience consistently shows the key to a successful SharePoint migration is to remove any uncertainties in how the process will proceed.  You remove uncertainty by performing a detailed technical analysis of the existing environment, working with your business groups, carefully planning and prioritizing.  We typically refer to this process as a pre-migration analysis.

This likely sounds like something that you already know.  I like to think of a pre-migration analysis as including ALL activities which occur prior to any movement of data.  This includes all technical considerations, decision making and project planning.  This also means a pre-migration analysis must include ALL necessary topics, both high-level and detailed, when reviewing the current system(s).  Those details need to feed into the planning and prioritization process for how the migration will actually proceed.  

In this two-part migration series, I’ll share some thoughts on this topic in the hopes that it will help guide you in your SharePoint migration adventures.

High-Level Topics to Detailed Considerations

Some SharePoint migrations are performed through a simple ‘database attach’.  This can work well when moving from one version of SharePoint on premise to a newer version, also on premise.  However, many enterprises use a migration as the opportunity to re-organize content, ‘cleanup’ environments, and introduce new governance models or business process automation.  Ultimately, they’re taking the opportunity to expand the business value they’re getting out of SharePoint.  They might also take this opportunity to move from on premise SharePoint to Office 365.  Most SharePoint migrations we see are driven by some combination of these factors.

At a high-level, a pre-migration analysis often considers the following topics.  These topics will very quickly get into the detail and activities you need in order to successfully plan and execute a migration.

Source Environment

Which system(s) does the source environment include? 

  • Is there more than 1 source system?  Does the source environment include legacy SharePoint versions, file shares or other enterprise content management systems?  

Determine the number of SharePoint farms and their versions. Determine the number of file shares.  Create a detailed list of all source environments, including technical details such as version numbers and locations/URL.

  • Are we moving data from all or some combination of these environments?  How much data are we moving?  

Determine the number and size of content databases.  Determine the number of site collections, subsites, libraries, lists and documents. Create a detailed list of all content databases, site collections, subsites, etc. with technical details such as size and location captured for each.

  • How will permissions from the source environment be migrated?  Will permission cleanup be performed? How will we determine which permissions require cleanup?

Determine if permissions must be preserved from the source environment, or if permission cleanup is necessary.  Create a plan for how permissions will be migrated into the new environment, itemizing any broad areas of cleanup necessary.

Destination Environment

Which version and type of SharePoint environment are we migrating to?

  • Are we migrating to one of or some combination of: SharePoint on premise, Office 365 (SharePoint Online), Hybrid environment? Which licenses for the destination environment are or will be in place: standard or on premise licensing, Office 365 licensing?

Create a detailed list of the destination environments, the high-level purpose for each (especially if migrating to a hybrid environment), and the licenses that will be in place in all environments.

Content Classification or Categorization

Can we classify content as part of the migration planning process, what are those classifications and which content are we migrating based on those classifications?

  • Can we classify content as high value content or low value content ; sensitive content or confidential content? How old is our content and when was it last modified?  
  • Do we classify content at the site level, library level or item level?
  • Is there metadata already in place to support these classifications?  If so, can we make use of that, and if not are we classifying data manually or using a tool?  Are sites project based, department based or both? 

Formulate a plan for classifying content (if one does not already exist) and develop a method for using content classification to make migration decisions.  As part of the content classification plan, determine which criteria allows us to consider content for archival, content for destruction, content to remain where it is, and ultimately content for migration.

  • How can we use content or site classification to make prioritization decisions?  Can we use it to consider whether sensitive content migrates first or migrates last?  Can we prioritize sites for migration per department, per project or by criticality?  

Using our content classification plan, create a migration list with logical groupings of content, along with their location (URL) and content classification.  For each logical content grouping define if the content is being migrated (or archived, or deleted, etc.) and its priority.

  • Do we take into account critical department business dates to ensure that migration activities do not adversely affect or interrupt business?

Identify critical business dates or blackout periods in which business groups cannot participate in migrations.

Migration Ownership, Teams and Budgets

Which internal teams or business groups will own the migration and do those groups have the necessary technical skills.  

  • Who will act as executive sponsor for the migration project?  Are budgets allocated?  Which budget(s) will migration activities be allocated to?  IT budget?  A particular business group budget?  Shared across business group budgets?
  • Which groups will make business decisions about the migration?  Which business groups will be involved?  
  • Who will actually move the data?  Will IT be responsible for all migration of data, or will business groups move some data themselves?

Define and document ownership, roles and responsibilities for all aspects of the migration including budget, planning, data movement, validation/testing and user acceptance.  Ensure that both the business groups and the IT team are included and playing the right roles to make the migration happen as smoothly and successfully as possible. 


Often in enterprise grade SharePoint migrations some form of tool is needed as we are typically moving large quantities of data, sites, and business processes.  

  • Which tools will be considered for migrating data?  Will third party tools or in house developed tools be considered?

Based on the detailed migration plan, defined, evaluate and select a tool to use in migrating your data.  There are various tools available and each have their strengths.

These are some key topics, but there certainly are others to consider, such as: site structure and if it will change as you migrate to the destination, migrating workflows and other business process artifacts, security/permissions and are they changing as data arrives in the destination, etc.  I’ll likely mention this often in this series: the goal of a pre-migration analysis is to remove uncertainties - to avoid running across that bear in the woods as you travel along your journey.

Answering these questions is the start of doing just that.  In the second half of this series we will explore a strategic approach to migration planning.  Stay tuned for my upcoming blog post, A SharePoint Migration Story Part II: Developing a Strategy!

Need help planning your SharePoint Migration or Upgrade? Take a look at our SharePoint Pre-Migration Assessment offering.

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