Last week I had the opportunity to participate in the Tweet Jam about SharePoint. One of the topics that came up was the importance of Governance. In this article I want to dive deeper into this topic and stress how important governance is within your environment. 

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Governance can simply be defined as a set of controls in place to ensure that your SharePoint environment remains stable, accessible and highly responsive. These are controls that you put in place to keep the environment from becoming the black hole of misplaced and misused content.

Governance in many cases, seems to be the latest buzz word, the thing that all environments have to have in order to get the stamp of approval for following best practices. The simple truth however, is that it doesn’t matter what you call it or how you manage it, as long as it is getting done.

Here are a few simple questions that I like to ask that help you see the types of areas that are typically covered in a governance plan.

  1. Why SharePoint? What purpose does SharePoint serve in your organization?
  2. If a user wants to create a new solution and they think SharePoint is a good fit for what they need, how do they go about creating one?
  3. Who in the organization has attended SharePoint training?
  4. Are there quotas in place within your environment to help control how large solutions can become?
  5. How does the typical user within your environment use SharePoint?

In a nutshell, a Governance plan should outline what the intended use of your environment is and then provide guidance on how users can successfully use the environment as a tool to increase their success within the organization. Once the goals are set and the process is outlined, you then look at what needs to be put in place to ensure that the environment can fulfill its intended purposes. Governance is really nothing more than creating a roadmap and then building a road to successfully reach the final destination.

Starts with the Business

The first step to any good plan is knowing where we are going. In terms of SharePoint, this means we need to understand the goals of implementation. The goals will greatly determine how we move forward and should be the guide to all things we do.

These goals should generate within the business and should be based on business needs and not technology. If we based our plans on the technology alone, we can definitely miss the mark. The goals should be owned by a single point of contact, even if that contact is a committee that is working together. These goals will help determine what we configure within SharePoint, so they need to have strong backing and encompass a large vision of the organization.

The more these goals align with the overall goals of the organization, the more successful overall user adoption will be. This is due to the fact that users will more rapidly adopt the toolset because they can see how using the toolset will help them achieve the greater goals of the organization.

It Doesn’t End with the Business

Once the business comes together and works through a set of goals for the implementation, it is important for the business to continue to work with the system administrators and developers to help develop the actionable plan to move forward with the SharePoint implementation.

While it is true that the best governance plans start with the business, it is also true that the only truly successful governance plans include information from all areas of expertise. System administrators know better than anyone how to best maintain the environment to ensure long term usability and impact. By working together, the best of both sides meet in the middle, allowing for users to have access to stable, reliable systems that help them achieve real world goals.

If only one side of the equation is consulted in the building of the governance plan it will be likely that your implementation leans towards the primary contributor's point of view.

This means that the system may help me achieve my business goals, but it could be storing far too much data in one location, making it a high risk in a disaster recovery scenario. Or on the flip side, I may have a highly stable environment that runs excellently, but it doesn’t quite do what I need it to do so I have to also rely on other tools to help me complete my tasks.

But You Don’t Understand

Now, I fully understand that best practices mean one thing in articles and textbooks and take on a different form in the real world. In fact, at this point you may be reading this and saying to yourself “That sounds great, but you haven’t met my system admins” or “Yeah right, this only works with users who have realistic expectations” or even something along the lines of “this sounds great, but I am a one person IT Shop.”

All of these responses are real world and trust me, I have heard them all. The truth of the matter is though, that it doesn’t matter your scenario, it just matters that it gets done. If you can know enough to classify how your organization behaves, then I imagine you can also spend some time figuring out how to set up a way to work within the existing structure.

Use what you know about your organization to your benefit. It may mean that you have to spend some time grooming the business to help you identify their goals or that you may need to get to the bottom of communication issues with IT and business users, but at the end of the day, once these issues have been worked through you will be well on the way to a successful implementation.

Another Chance to get it Right

The message about governance isn’t new at all. In fact, if you have been around for any of the past releases of SharePoint you will remember that with each new release governance again becomes one of the central guide posts that you need to look at.

This gives you the opportunity to really examine what you are doing as an organization and make changes at the same time the new product release becomes available. If you have an existing governance plan, you have the opportunity to take a health check and determine if your implementation of governance has had the desired effects within the organization.

Start Now! 3 Simple Steps

To close out this article, I wanted to provide you with three easy steps you could use to get started on building your own governance plan. These steps should help you at least start to gather your thoughts and the team that will be needed for governance to be successful within your organization. 

Remember, each organization is different, with different goals and objectives, so each governance plan can also be different. It’s not important that you complete a checklist or have a formal document, but it is important that you have a destination and a clear path to get there!

  1. Pick a Destination: Take some time to really examine the use of SharePoint within your environment. How are people using it today? Are you taking full advantage of its potential? Do you have clearly defined goals and objectives?
  2. Build Your Team: Based on your goals, pull together a team that is best suited for getting you there. The team should have representation from the business as well as from IT. Working together the team will be able to provide a realistic tone to how SharePoint can be used internally.
  3. Build a Road: Once you know where you are going take the time to build out a roadmap for getting there. The roadmap you take will be dependent on many things, including the culture within your organization, the available resources and required timeframe for completion. Having this clearly defined will help you as you try to bring change to the organization. By allowing the entire team to provide input to this path you will be ensuring that the path is one that will fit well within your organization.

Hopefully this article has helped you see some of the importance of working together within your organization to build a governance strategy. I have worked with many different organizations on their governance plans and all of our efforts seem to start at the same point: defining what governance means to us and how we need to go about implementing it. In many cases SharePoint governance will change the way you work within your organization, but this change is not really a bad thing at all!

Image courtesy of jupeart (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Another article about SharePoint by Jennifer Mason you might enjoy is:

-- SharePoint 2013: Not Quite What I Expected