As a SharePoint MVP, active member of the global SharePoint community, an experienced project manager with knowledge of SharePoint business user topics, I am often asked "What are the best practices for SharePoint governance?"

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There really is no right answer to this. I have had experiences -- some more successful than others -- in building out governance best practices, but each company and each customer varied and not every rule or approach would be appropriate across the board for companies looking to leverage this experience.

My typical answer to this question is to tell the person that the underlying principles of good governance are the same whether managing SharePoint or any other enterprise collaboration platform and those principles do not change whether that platform is on premises, in the cloud or a hybrid solution of both. It can be argued, though, that governance is even more critical to hybrid environments to make collaboration a success due to its additional complexities.

While there are clearly tactical differences in how you manage the day-to-day activities of SharePoint and other platforms -- features and capabilities, to policies and controls -- there are ways to create a successful collaborative governance strategy across any platform and any set of tools. The fundamentals include managing the risks involved with the decisions you make around your environment -- from security concerns (access controls, roles and responsibilities) to data management (storage policies, document lifecycles, information architecture) to auditing (compliance monitoring, metrics, collaboration transparency).

Governance should be a priority for any enterprise, approached with a holistic view of what the entire organization needs from the system, not just the requirements of a single team or business unit.

How you approach your governance planning may differ slightly, but in my experience, there are seven clear steps which all organizations should follow when building their governance plan to improve collaboration:

1. Executive Support

Few initiatives are able to move forward successfully without the support of someone from the leadership team -- someone who will help you to clear out roadblocks and to push for necessary funding and resources. From a governance standpoint, your executive sponsor may not be very involved in the operations of the team, but should be available when needed to review and approve difficult decisions, or to clarify corporate goals and direction.

2. End-User Involvement

You cannot plan a system that will be primarily for end users and then not have those end users involved. The more you involve users, the more likely they are to support the end result and feel involved in the collaborative process. They are your front line subject matter experts (SMEs), the owners of the content to be uploaded, the consumers of the data that is produced.

Identify key users from within core stakeholder groups, and involve them as much as possible. They are your quality assurance, you gauge that end user expectations are being met or are off-track. As decisions and compromises are made, they will also become your primary communication method to the rest of the company, sharing what is changing and why certain decisions or compromises were made.

3. A Consistent Change Management Model

The key to successful change management is to ensure that the process is transparent, status is communicated quickly and often, and that employees know the priorities of their requests. The longer you take to provide the features and capabilities your end users need to be productive, the more difficult your task is in keeping those users engaged. They will often find other collaborative solutions to get their work accomplished and rarely will those alternatives meet the organization’s long-term goals for supportability and scalability.

Having end users involved in your governance body is important, but you cannot assume that they will always communicate the right message at the right cadence. Make change management a priority and have a well-documented process with clear outputs (reporting, dashboards, process for resolving conflicts).

4. Using Your Established Project Methodology

Most organizations have an established project management methodology with defined stages, documentation templates, inputs and outputs. You should utilize this methodology as much as possible, as people are familiar with it (generally speaking) and understand their roles within the system -- their inputs, their ability to review and sign-off on designs, and so forth. One of my mantras is “Use the tools that people are familiar with and they are more likely to participate in the process.”

5. Have a Shared Understanding of Your Business Requirements

A sound governance strategy requires some semblance of understanding and agreement to further benefit collaboration. As you build out your technical solutions, always be sure to go back and ensure alignment with your documented (and undocumented) requirements.

Requirements frequently change -- which is all part of a healthy change management model -- so there will be an ongoing need to reaffirm alignment with your business goals. At the end of the day, the goal of your technology initiative is to increase and improve your business capabilities -- you’re not deploying technology for the sake of deploying technology. Always have a clear line of sight between the business need and technology solution.

6. Have Clearly Defined Metrics and Auditing Criteria

Know what success looks like. Metrics, like business requirements, may change over time, so make it part of your regular audits and strategy review to walk through your current metrics. This helps ensure you are measuring the right data points and encouraging the right behaviors within the system. As new requirements are ratified, always review your measurements to ensure that they still apply and capture the data you need to show that what you are delivering actually meet the needs of the business.

7. Continually Optimize

One of the memorable parts of graduate school for me was reading and listening to talks by W. Edwards Deming, who was credited with starting the Total Quality Management (TQM) movement, an approach to organizational management processes that improves products and solutions through continuous feedback. TQM helped Japan rebuild after World War II, and even now I can hear his reminder to continually "optimize the system."

This is a recurring theme in my list here -- the need to continually question the plan, improve upon it and iterate. Governance is not a static activity, therefore, you must include in your governance planning a system of regular renewal.

This list is comprised entirely of what I refer to as "planning infrastructure" activities, and do not delve into the particulars of the platform you are planning around. That’s the point: the technology is secondary to the governance planning activities. A structured approach will help you to identify whether the technology is even a match -- and help you identify the gaps that need to be filled when it is not a perfect fit.

Once you have the planning infrastructure in place, you will have the messaging tools and stakeholders assembled to address your requirements around structure and architecture, policies and standards, ownership and accountability, measurement and reporting, as well as your ongoing efforts to automate and improve collaboration efforts within your organization.

Image courtesy of IdeaStepConceptStock (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: To read more of Christian's thoughts on governance, see his Who Owns Governance #nzspc