Communities of Practice Site Redesign and Implementation
Strengthening knowledge sharing in a global consulting firm
Business Issue

A global management-consulting firm had a long-established knowledge management (KM) program. The firm’s primary knowledge repository was based on Microsoft SharePoint 2013 and it was the main collection and search location for project records and materials. The KM program had also deployed Communities of Practice (CoP) intranet sites, which displayed selected KM content for each sector/service line and provided other important CoP-related information. There was an extensive taxonomy housed in the SharePoint term store, which was used for metadata tagging, site navigation, and the dynamic display of content in the CoP sites.

The firm's senior management felt that neither the main search functions nor the CoP sites were being used as much as they should be, so they were likely under-utilizing this important asset and missing opportunities to share knowledge. As the first step in a KM improvement program, the consulting firm decided to upgrade the CoP sites by making them more effective as “shop windows” to the underlying KM repositories, thereby providing momentum for a broader KM enhancement effort. Iknow was asked to assist with this initiative.


Iknow’s project approach involved three phases:

1. Diagnostic Phase. Iknow conducted a detailed review of the current CoP sites and KM repository to understand the key usability and content management issues that need to be addressed during the project. This work included:

  • Review of previous user feedback.
  • Content audit, including types of content, the numbers of items displayed, and the static/dynamic split.
  • Extensive user interviews with all levels of firm's staff.
  • Review of current content management procedures for the CoP sites.
  • Technical review of how the current CoP sites were populated and administered in SharePoint, including the use of lists and libraries, Content Query web parts, and other web parts and menus.

2. Design Phase. Based on the diagnostic work, Iknow proposed a new SharePoint architecture and page design template for the CoP pages, including the required SharePoint components and functionality. This involved the following main tasks:

  • Requirements definition, based on the diagnostic work, summarized in a document that was discussed with the senior management.
  • “Wireframe” design preparation with several navigation options for discussion.
  • A technical design document, summarizing the SharePoint features and functionality to be developed based on the selected wireframe design.

Iknow’s recommended site architecture made use of SharePoint’s “managed navigation” and “term-driven pages” features:

  • Each site was based on a special “CoP” term set containing specified terms that had been copied from the main taxonomy.
  • Each page within a site was “term-driven” – meaning that it was based mainly on queries of KM data using a specific term from the site’s CoP term set.
  • The query-driven page content was organized into “tabs” based on different KM use cases (e.g., Selling, Project Delivery, Ideas, Research, People Search, and Projects) that were populated automatically with items that were tagged to the corresponding terms (topics and content types) and were flagged for inclusion on the site.

In addition:

  • Each CoP site had a “search within site” feature that returned only items that were flagged for inclusion on the site.
  • The sites had a free text/image area to allow custom content and branding for each CoP.

3. Implementation Phase. Working initially in a SharePoint development environment, and then migrating to staging and production environments, Iknow managed the development and deployment of the new sites. Activities included:

  • New site template creation – using the designs developed in the previous phase.
  • Content management process – working with each CoP to review content and select items for inclusion in the new sites, and reviewing tagging to ensure that content appears in the right places.
  • Content management tools – developing, testing, and deploying PowerShell scripts to facilitate batch tagging and content promotion based on CoP input from Excel sheets, as well as SharePoint grid views for rapid editing.
  • Testing – both internally in the team and with selected users, followed by remediation of any issues.
  • Documentation – for both new site creation and site administration.

The new CoP sites were successfully deployed on schedule and received very positive feedback from the firm's users across practice areas and countries.

The architecture and design has several advantages for future maintenance:

  • New CoP sites can be created very quickly by copying the standard pages from an existing site, editing them for custom terminology, and adding site navigation via the KM term.
  • New sub-sites can be created automatically by copying the desired term from the taxonomy – the sites are automatically populated by the page queries.
  • Changes to content tagging and best practice flagging are reflected immediately on the sites.
  • Items appear on the pages when they are tagged with the page term in any of the managed metadata fields. This ensures that content will appear on all relevant CoP sites.
  • CoP content managers use a well defined and proven process for periodic bulk review and updating of site content using Excel sheets or the SharePoint grid view.
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