Modern Microsoft SharePoint Design: Overcoming Common Challenges – Part 3

This is the final installment to my 3-part series on common challenges customers are experiencing with modern SharePoint design. In the first two blogs, I talked about obstacles in implementing modern sites in SharePoint Online, including a new (“greenfield”) environment (Overcoming Common Challenges with Modern Microsoft SharePoint Design – Part I) and one with a mixture of modern and classic sites (Overcoming Common Challenges with Modern Microsoft SharePoint Design – Part 2). Now let’s focus on areas that should be considered when migrating from SharePoint on-premises to modern sites in SharePoint Online.

For those who still don’t know about Dell EMC’s consulting services practice for implementing Microsoft products – we’ve been partnering with Microsoft for 30 years! Yes, that’s right and personally, I live and breathe SharePoint, Project Online, and related services every day and have done so for the last 10 years.

Site Collection Hierarchy

Ok, so in the first blog, we established modern sites are all created as individual site collections. Most on-premises SharePoint farms consist of hundreds, if not thousands, of sub-sites nested within different site collections.This means that you’ll need to completely flatten your site structure as part of the migration to modern SharePoint Online sites.

A couple of things to consider are:

  • Site provisioning – most (if not all) migration tools currently create site collections using a classic SharePoint template. This means that you’ll need to develop a method of creating the modern SharePoint site before conducting the migration – either manually or through a tool like PowerShell.
  • SharePoint Hub sites – Hub sites are the method for re-structuring this site/sub-site relationship in modern SharePoint sites. However, there are some limitations to Hub sites (namely that there is currently a limit of 50), so you’ll need to plan how to use these to re-build your existing structure.

Migrating Security / Permissions

There are a couple of instances where security and permissions work differently in SharePoint Online than on-premises:

  • External sharing – sharing with external users (“guests”) is much easier in SharePoint Online. As you plan to migrate, you should work with site owners to understand if their site should allow external users (and then enable, if necessary) or how to re-share with external folks if they previously had access on-premises.
  • O365 Group permissions – modern team sites are connected to an O365 Group, which add some elements to the standard permission model. First, you’ll need to decide whether the site is “public” or “private” because a public O365 Group will open access to all users within the organization.  Secondly, you’ll need to determine which users need access to the O365 Group artifacts (“Documents” library, conversations, planner, etc.) as those permissions are managed separately from the SharePoint site.

In general, we often recommend that organizations take this as an opportunity to start fresh with their permissions in SharePoint Online. It is common that on-premises sites have been around for 10+ years and are a complete “rats nest” of permissions. Instead of migrating the mess (and then continue to make it messier), why not work with the site owners to re-share their site with only the people who actually need access?

Migrating Pages

Pages have been completely re-architected in modern SharePoint – and as a result, there is no current migration path for classic pages. This means that you’ll need to plan time to re-build all of your necessary pages in your newly migrated SharePoint site.  If your sites follow a standard layout, you can develop a PowerShell script to provision the modern pages with sections and configure some of the web parts and content. However, modern pages have a differing set of tools/web parts than classic sites, so doing so will not be as simple as mapping 1-to-1 and will require testing and some manual re-build where web parts don’t map properly.

Migrating Documents

Content from on-premises SharePoint can be migrated to SharePoint Online without much hassle – however, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t require some planning.  In classic SharePoint, users typically created multiple document libraries within a single site to separate different types of content. This can still be done on a modern team site, but the only documents that will show in the “Documents” link (which is part of the associated O365 Group) are the files in the default “Documents” library. So, as you plan your migration, you should work with site owners to determine if they would prefer all of their documents to show in that default library – and if so, how it should be re-organized.

Migrating Notebook / Calendars

OneNote notebooks and SharePoint calendars can be migrated to modern SharePoint sites – but, they will only be accessible through the SharePoint site. Let me explain.

  • Calendar – O365 Groups utilize an Exchange calendar for the default “Calendar” link in a modern team site. There isn’t currently a migration path for a SharePoint calendar to the associated Group calendar, so utilizing the default calendar requires a manual input of events in to the new calendar.
  • Notebook – Groups are also provisioned with a default OneNote notebook, which cannot be overwritten. If you’d like to have a single OneNote notebook on your modern team site, you will need to follow a manual method of connecting to both notebooks (in OneNote client) and using the “Move to” feature.

Lot’s to Consider….

Keep in mind, these are only some of the changes between classic and modern that should be considered when completing a migration. Also, while this blog focuses on migration to modern sites, but there is also an option to migrate to classic sites in SharePoint Online and utilize a mixed environment (see challenges from this type of environment in blog 2). As someone who’s completed many SharePoint migrations, I can tell you, they can often be more complex than they first appear. There are MANY areas (not covered here) that should be designed and well-planned before undertaking any SharePoint migration.


Leverage these tips as you consider and plan your SharePoint migration. If you’d like to have our Dell EMC SharePoint experts do it for you, we can help! Dell EMC is a gold-certified Microsoft partner and my consulting services team is responsible for all things Office 365 (including Teams, Yammer, Groups, Stream, etc.), SharePoint, Project Server/Project Online, Exchange, and Identity. We also work closely with Microsoft MVPs and the Patterns and Practice (PnP) community to leverage and improve the latest product features. Feel free to leave a comment below and I’d be happy to respond to you.

And, now I’m off to another SharePoint project…

About the Author: Mike Shea

Mike Shea has been with Consulting Services for over 10 years, primarily focused on Microsoft collaboration services. During this time, Mike has engaged in multiple roles, including project management, business analysis, technical consulting, and pre-sales. Leading projects with organizations of all sizes and industries, Mike is passionate about helping customers achieve their workforce transformation objectives and helping to deliver personalized experiences for end users. He applies his deep knowledge and experience to approach projects from many perspectives and guide a customer engagement through the entire process from envisioning, solution assessment, design, implementation and training. In his free time, Mike enjoys spending time with his family and is an avid sports fan, including continuing to play in both football (flag) and soccer leagues.