Let’s start at the beginning … What is a governance plan? In the IT world a governance plan is typically a set of roles, responsibilities, procedures, policies, etc., that an organization can build around the usage of a particular piece of technology. When you are implementing new software either for the first time or in preparation for an upgrade, a governance plan is important, but depending on the technology, may not always be required.

When you are implementing SharePoint, a governance plan is definitely required.

As a consultant I have helped numerous companies plan and implement successful SharePoint solutions and the one thing I always insist on is strong governance. However -- like most pieces of SharePoint -- it can be difficult to figure out exactly where to begin. Every solution and company is slightly different, but what follows are some of the elements I use when creating an efficient governance plan that will actually be beneficial to users. It usually falls within the four areas detailed below: Governance Team, Software and Service Management, Information Management and Application Management.

As you work through formulating and defining these sections you can also begin writing a governance document. The document is an important piece of your plan but we all know most users won’t read it. So during this time create some visual representations of your plan -- this could be a Visio diagram or some of that Office SmartArt we all love so much. Also develop a handout or quick webinar to communicate the big topics to your user base.

Assemble the Team

Avengers Assemble! Wait ... sorry, wrong article. Or is it? Your governance team will be an integral part of your SharePoint implementation, so not only do they need to be willing, they need to be ready to contribute their skills to the cause. Your governance team should never be IT only. You need to have representation from the business as well as IT. Some of the roles that should be filled are:

  • SharePoint Owner -- This person has ultimate responsibility for making sure the project is continuing to align with the overall goals and initiatives.
  • SharePoint Infrastructure Administrator -- Responsible for all the backend maintenance and setup of SharePoint
  • SharePoint Developer/Designer -- Person or persons responsible for all custom development and branding.
  • SharePoint Site Collection Administrator -- Person responsible for helping end users with day to day tasks and issues in SharePoint.
  • Business Alignment Analyst -- This person should be responsible for communicating with business units in the organization and making sure their need are represented during the planning phase.

There are many roles that could be a part of the governance team, but these are some of the key roles that need to be assigned. Depending on the size of the organization and the use of third party vendors some of these roles may be assigned to multiple people or one person may assume multiple roles.

Once roles are identified, the next step is to formulate a communication plan. This plan should include how often the team should meet, what the members need to do in preparation for the meeting, what topics should be covered during the meeting, etc. The communication plan should also include how the launch of the new solution will be communicated to the business, as well as how future updates will be communicated. 

Software and Service Management

This section should answer a lot of the traditional governance questions about your solution. Include conversation and documentation around at minimum the following: service-level agreements, guidelines around service packs and patching, infrastructure policies, backup and recovery processes, site policies, storage quotas and language support.

When documenting this piece be sure to include a Visio diagram of your infrastructure/farm.

*Note: Microsoft has examples of these diagrams available online that can be used as templates. 

Information Management

SharePoint is nothing without well managed and maintained content, so you absolutely need to create good Information Architecture as early as possible. IA should cover site collection/site structure, navigation, types of content, tagging, managing metadata and search.

Once you've identified the different types of content another good step is to work out the lifecycle for each content type. Will content approval be required? Will the documents need versioning? Does there need to be retention or audit policies around the content? All of these questions should be answered inside of the governance plan. Policies should also be put in place around the use of pages, apps, term sets, external data, collaboration tools, enterprise features (e.g. InfoPath), etc.

The second half of Information Management is Information Access. This will be a time to consider how security should be structured and managed. Will AD groups or SharePoint groups be used? Who can manage permissions and where? Will anonymous access be an option? Does information need to be targeted at a specific audience?

*Note: Microsoft also offers a lot of helpful worksheets for information architecture and document management on TechNet.

Application Management

Don’t you fret, developers and designers! We have not forgotten you. The Application Management section of the plan is where the law is laid down on all things custom. Whether that is third party applications, custom developed applications or branding, guidelines need to be determined around how these solutions are handled.

The first piece of this is determining if there is a need for a development and test environment. Depending on the type of customizations that need to be made you may only need one or the other.

The next piece is to create some guidelines around customization including the process for testing, packaging/deploying, approved tools and support. If moving to SharePoint 2013 there is even more to consider around the new SharePoint App Model. A lot of the changes apply to not only internally developed solutions but also third party apps that users may want to pull from the SharePoint App Store. It is important to decide how to handle the App Store and communicate that to the business early on. I can almost guarantee that Power Users will find out about the App Store early on and will start asking your team questions about it.

That concludes my strategies for taking back your governance plan! I hope you find these suggestions helpful as you begin creating your plan. SharePoint can be a beast, but if you take it piece by piece you can definitely create a great living document that will be helpful as the solution progresses.