For those that havent been working with 2013, Microsoft published planning materials late July of this year. As we get closer to the Las Vegas conference I expect more information will be made available and we’ll also hear about deployment case studies from some of Microsoft’s big customers.

Aside from Microsoft published material, organizations will benefit from conducting well thought out planning exercises that help expose risks, establish communications, define service levels, establish governace, cleanup, determine capacity requirements, grease organizational enablers, compliance requirements and technology constraint’s.

Specifically, for risk management, conducting risk workshops with the stakeholders to identify, rate, prioritize and agree upon risks. These could be compliance, security, technology, culture or vender related. The importance of risk planning is to get them on the table and agreed to early and use them in the planning, deployment and management process. A process I found that works is to note on post-it notes, rate their impact (hi, medium, low), rate the likelihood of them occurring (hi, medium, low) and then listing steps to prevent or deal with them.

Mapping SharePoint to the business is a step you must take now if you havent already. IT must understand current and future business operations so they can justify choices that will improve ROI and provide greater value over the lifetime of the service. For many, the conversation and understanding will provide improved business engagement and strengthen your SharePoint service offering – this approach is  definitely related to governance and must involve the stakeholders beyond IT. This exercise will result in many positive things such as improved business acumen, initial formings of a content strategy and service description and roadmap. To often product roadmaps focus on plumbing and not content – content must be one of the key focus areas.

User experience design is another key area that organizations often skip – now is the time to address this if you haven’t already. Focusing on the users work, location of work patterns, key tasks and activities, information consumed to complete tasks, key outcomes and artifacts. This process is called Experience Design (search my blogs for posts on this topic) which helps you design and substantiate a content strategy of value to the business. Ultimately this content strategy will be a living activity on your SharePoint roadmap.

Defining the SharePoint service and levels to help manage expectations with the business and provide technical guidelines for designing services, performance, redundancy and recoverability. Another key aspect of defining service levels are the agreements (SLA) with the business users, IT and venders for usage, support, administration and operation. Specifically, the SLA must cover responsibilities, key activities, dos and don’ts for all parties. This helps manage expectations, provide a basis for enforcement and help solve disputes.

Understanding the current state of your organization. Who will support the project and who wont, and who will try to make it fail. Knowing who the nay sayers are is important for several reasons. Use Governance to facilitate cooperation and deal with the problem people, refer to the next paragraph for more information.

Governance is a must for you. If you dont have a team that represents all the regions and stakeholders, form one now. If you dont represent them, keep communications open and involve them in decisions, you will be looking for a job all said and done. What you think are priorities and success (and non disruptive) may not be so in the eyes of the stakeholders.

Clean up, now is the time to archive/delete old and unused sites (Especially the top 40 templates if you have them), empty recycle bins, page and document versions, large and wide list cleanup, delete old webparts etc. Why migrate GBs of garbage? Run  reports on site ownership and create a simple checklist for site admins can follow to clean up their sites. Work with Records Management for disposition of old and/or unused sites. Run reports on a regular basis to track progress. Don’t under estimate the value of doing this.

Test, test and test. Setup a lab that best replicates your environment and test the migration of the content databases. Assume the 80/20 rule, 80% will be fine the other 20% will be problematic. Be prepared with a process, communication plan, staff and tools for dealing with these sites. For test the site migrations, work with the site stakholders to make sure expectations are managed (Use a lab and lots of communication). Finally, create a plan for the exceptions, those sites that wont migrate souch as any site that use the fab 40. Also, montoring the lab performance so you know what sort of resources are consumed (know what impact the migration has on the production farms performance) and time required. Work closely with the owners of the problems sites – communication is your will go a long way.

For capacity management, defining the life span of the solution (e.g. 3 years? 5 years?) then defining the number of users, storage capacity, network capacity, server capacity and information disposition schedules. Conducting load testing of a physical farm to simulate capacity and confirm the farm design will deliver expected performance. Having this information will help you plan for growth and data disposition (You must track capture and deletion or you be in endless growth mode) which helps you get proactive about managing capacity, service levels and compliance.

For organizational behaviors, defined what areas of the organization must be ready in the form of governance, training, monitoring and sign off. For example, true governance isn’t just for IT, it involves records management, legal, purchasing, lines of business, IT and third party service providers. In some cases it might also involve clients.

To help with facilitating these meetings you can leverage visual tools such as Visioning and Game Plan. These are very useful to help focus the conversations and spark creative thinking. I use Context Map, Vision and Graphic Gamplan the most in workshops. I place the Vision and Context map on one wall, work on it forst then move everyone to the Gameplan. Also, make sure you document your processes such as those for the actual migrations and testing.

Microsoft’s planning material is available here Installation can be found here HP solution sizers on active answers  Dell solution sizer