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Sharepoint 2010 : Making Search Work - Analyzing and Designing Search (part 1) - Creating a Business Requirements Document

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An effective first step for designing a search solution is to identify stakeholders, business unit representatives, and sponsors who are responsible for providing guidance, resources, and funding for the project. Organize some detailed questions for them and then conduct interviews to facilitate the elicitation of business requirements.

Ask the business representatives the following:

  • What types of content will be searched?

  • What is the content used for?

  • Where is the content stored?

  • How much effort has been spent in cataloging content?

  • What types of content can search help uncover?

  • What are some example search queries that you might run?

Business Analysis

It is important to maintain a holistic mindset to requirements gathering because certain revealed information can ignite and expand subsequent conversations. You will discover how search impacts individuals and teams, as well as the enterprise as a whole. This approach results in a more solid foundation for the initial definition of search, which improves the search deliverables and limits future rework. The consequence to poor planning with search is that valuable information may be missed or not presented in an intuitive and useful way.

To promote good planning, interview business representatives and conduct focus group activities. The goal of eliciting feedback is to gather as much useful information about business needs as possible. This process should include free and open discussions and not be constrained by assumptions about the scope of the search implementation, the limitations of the software, or any other reason why a particular idea may or may not be implemented. The requirements analysis is not a scope definition exercise, and you are not obligating the business to any particular feature or capability. Instead, your goal is to completely understand what search capabilities the business needs and wants. During the pursuit of this information, it is acceptable and encouraged to explore the users’ day-to-day processes and ask questions about how they do their jobs and what ways they think search could improve their jobs or somebody else’s.

While gathering requirements, it is important to keep in mind that useful information can be contained in various forms, both structured and unstructured. The “right” answer to a question might exist in a document, a discussion thread, or a wiki. Business users expect a search engine to interrogate all possible sources in the pursuit of the answer. By understanding what the sources of information are and how to retrieve the right answers from the various content formats, you can effectively define the functional requirements of SharePoint search.

Creating a Business Requirements Document

The interviews and discussions can produce a plethora of information about search. You will need to figure out a way to consistently extrapolate and organize the requirements, feedback, ideas, and explanations that are provided. So before beginning the interviewing process, invest time in developing document templates and surveys for collecting and organizing the search requirements from the various facets of the organization. A benefit to documenting consistently across groups is that you can more easily merge the requirements from the disparate groups into a single document at a later time, grouping related information. An easy way to get started with building a search requirements document template is to add a section that identifies the types of content that business users might need to search for. This is a fundamental inquiry that will apply to everybody you meet with about search. As an example, Table 1 lists various types of content and provides a column where you can indicate whether or not a need exists.

Table 1. Example of Information to Gather to Define Search Requirements
Searching for ...... in This LocationNeed Exists? (Y/N)Description of Content
DocumentsSharePoint sites  
  • PDF

Fileshares  
  • Word

Exchange public folders  
  • Excel

Lotus Notes databases  
  • PowerPoint

Local hard drives (C:\)  
Web ContentSharePoint sites  
  • Text

Internal Web sites  
  • Links

Internet Web sites  
SharePoint List Items
  • Custom Items

  • Issues

  • Tasks

SharePoint sites  
DiscussionsSharePoint sites  
 Exchange Public Folders  
 Notes Databases  
PeopleSharePoint Profile Database  
 Active Directory  
 Exchange Address Book  
 LDAP directory  
 HR System  
Structured Business Data   
  • Database Records

ERP Database  
  • Transactions

CRM Database  
 Project Management Database  
 HR Management Database  
 Learning Management Database  
 Time and Billing Database  
 Issue Tracking Database  
 Accounting Database  
 Custom Database  

The business capabilities that the SharePoint search features provide can only realize maximum potential if the proper analysis and planning efforts have been invested into the other facets of SharePoint. To leverage metadata properties most effectively, the business should have a common nomenclature and utilize consistent Column naming throughout its SharePoint portals and sites. These properties, in turn, can be configured as managed properties and then can be used within search scopes, which can greatly enhance the end-user experience.

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