SharePoint site sprawl is like urban sprawl—and to some, it may be a phenomenon that is even worse. While SharePoint is billed as a place where teams and can share files and work product with their colleagues (and in later releases of SharePoint, even with vendors and those outside your company), it often means even simple SharePoint deployments that consist of sites, libraries and documents (and not complicated custom applications built on top of SharePoint or business intelligence portals) can quickly get out of control with users creating sites and workspaces for every little thing that comes across their desks.

Why is SharePoint site sprawl bad?

  • It complicates locating information. Having multiple sites increases the number of places that a sought after piece of information or document isn’t.
  • It may well require more resources as content is more likely to be stored multiple times. Project planning documents, corporate directories, proposal templates—all of these items stand a good chance of being uploaded to different sites by different teams even if they are carbon copies of one another. SharePoint does not do a good job of detecting this.
  • Migrations to future versions of SharePoint, or to other collaboration platforms, are much more difficult the more sites you have at the source. The more you have to migrate, the more expensive the process will be, the more chances there are for something to go wrong, and the less likely you are to have a smooth migration.
  • It can be difficult to manage.

How to avoid SharePoint site sprawl

Establish controls to ensure duplicate sites, or sites with a lot of overlap to existing sites, are not created

An ounce of prevention, as the old adage goes, is worth a pound of cure, and the best way to control site sprawl on a tactical basis is to ensure that you do not create too many sites—one way is to create a database, or catalog, of sites that you create that is documented rather well as to the purpose and membership.  Restrict the technical permissions to create sites to a group that keeps this catalog, and as part of the site creation request process, ask the requesting user for a detailed explanation of what the site is for, what the purpose of the team creating the site is, which users should have access to the site, and explain why other existing sites those users may already have access to are not sufficient for the intended collaboration. This puts the onus on your users to request sites only when they need a separate space for them and also goes a long way toward providing the documentation needed to create the catalog. Then, when new requests come along, your approval staff can then check the catalog and see if a workspace within a current site may be a better fit for new collaboration initiatives, or if an entirely new site is justified. This is a great way to both ensure only the sites absolutely necessary to the business are created and also that you have an accurate map and catalog of exactly what sites exist and what business data they are likely to contain.

Work on establishing a good solid governance plan

Governance refers to how permissions and organizational rules apply to create, managing, archiving, and otherwise administering the life of SharePoint sites. This creates a system and a set of guidelines for how new projects and teams come together to share information under the umbrella of your SharePoint system. Unless your organization has a good, well thought out plan for how sites and site collections will be created, SharePoint site sprawl is an inevitable conclusion. For instance, any two people working together could create a team site. Meanwhile, an organizational task force creates another site, and then a committee working on a special report for the chief executive creates another site—but all are working with some common data. How is this information kept separate? Or kept alive? Or kept up to date? And how are each of these sites disposed of when the major objective of each team has been met? How do you preserve information when presented with discovery or litigation hold requests? A governance plan helps you to think ahead for these scenarios and ensure the structure of your SharePoint sites and site collections make sense and are where you think they should be at all times.

James Matthews


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