SharePoint best practices

Using workspace templates to help SharePoint Governance

Having a standardised set of workspace templates in place can help you ensure that SharePoint Online is used in the most efficient and secure way possible.
Martin Hattingh
August 18, 2023
3 min to read

SharePoint governance can mean many different things, but in most cases there is an underlying theme of consistency, repeatability and automatic application of attributes which aid indexing & discovery, enable regulatory-mandated retention, and prevent sprawl.

Implementing a set of SharePoint workspace templates for various business scenarios is one of the best ways to ensure that your users work towards a common set of goals, with structure, content and classification which is consistent and repeatable.

1 - Understand your governance objectives

Before you rush to the Microsoft look book, fire up a search for "best SharePoint templates" (spoiler alert: this will mostly net you Intranet templates which prioritise styling), or get a developer to create and deploy custom templates for you, it's sensible to stop and take a long hard look at what your governance goals are. You should be asking these governance questions:

  • What are the user roles I need to typically cater for?
  • What are the data storage limitations?
  • Are there any specific security and access management policies within my org?
  • Do I need to comply with any industry-specific regulation around unstructured data storage and retention?
  • Is the content volume within my organisation overwhelming to the average user?
  • Do I have search and discovery guidelines in place to help people find content?
  • Can stakeholders within departments or business units define what a typical workspace looks like for their users?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach here, but asking these questions will guide you in a direction to determine whether creating workspace templates will help your cause.

OK, so let's say you've determined that designing and deploying a set of SharePoint workspace templates will improve your governance picture. Here are the steps you could follow to make this a reality:

2 - Define the use cases where consistency is important

Not all business use cases have or need a golden thread of consistency. In some cases, you might find that every single project is run differently, so templates (and the need to modify them each time a workspace is created) may actually hinder more than they help. But, if something runs according to a fairly - or entirely - defined process, it means that consistency is important. How do you find these cases?

3 - Review existing workspaces to find commonalities

It can be helpful to look at a bunch of previous and currently active workspaces to try and find commonalities between them. For example: When a new client is signed up, there is a likely a standard set of folders and documents which are used to onboard the client, get them set up operationally, and then manage them on an ongoing basis, right? Consistency in this case helps all stakeholders find and work with client information.

4 - Design a set of baseline templates

Once you have set of use cases where consistency is important, interview stakeholders in each process to determine:

  • What the common structure requirements are in each instance
  • What the common content requirements are each time. Are document templates used? Where are they stored and who controls them?
  • What are the retention and access management requirements?
  • What's painful each time?
  • How do people usually initiate the process of workspace creation?
  • How do people find existing workspaces?

Use these inputs to design a first template version for each use case. Next, you should:

5 - Describe the scenarios where templates should be used

This aspect is often overlooked. If people don't understand when to use a specific template, or how to use it, the template becomes either misused or simply a white elephant.

Each template should have guidelines and governance around it, for example:

  • If you work in HR, this template is applicable to you.
  • When you initiate a review cycle for an employee, you need to use this template.
  • Here is what you do with each document template included.
  • The outputs of using this template are [insert here].
  • Don't use this template if [insert here].

6 - Implement a provisioning method

Great, you have templates! Now what? Enabling seamless workspace creation requires a provisioning method which makes it easy for users to:

  • Evaluate which template is suitable to their scenario (bonus points if it provides a decision tree to help guide them).
  • Understand the governance-related impacts of workspace creation (some workspace templates may require at least 2 owners, expire faster than standard, cannot be deleted for X years, etc)
  • Understand the guidelines for using a template.
  • Review previously created workspaces and check that a suitable one doesn't already exist.

Some of the ways you could provision workspaces:

Pro tip: To ensure that all workspace creation takes place using your set of defined templates, you can limit the ability to create team sites using the UI to a select group of users and shepherd everyone else through your provisioning pipeline.

7 - Measure impact

Once you have switched to a template-based provisioning process, it makes sense to actively review the number of sites created by using the SharePoint Admin Center and comparing this to previous periods. It is also sensible to check in with stakeholders on a quarterly basis to confirm that their users are finding benefit and that templates are kept up to date to meet current structure, content and regulatory requirements.

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