In this article, I give you some practical structure and tactics you can use to achieve effective SharePoint governance.
In football, how effective and successful will a team be at winning if it doesn’t have structured sub-teams? Imagine a football team with no defensive line, offensive line or special teams. What if sometimes the quarterback played the role of wide receiver, linebacker or kicker? How effective would that team be? What if the team had no planned plays, never practiced those plays and had no coaches or clear direction?
The truth is that, while the raw talent and skills of players is important, the team structure, patterns and practices are just as important.
Author Note: The talent, experience and skill of SharePoint staff are all important factors to a successful SharePoint implementation. Keep in mind that any talented person would prefer to come into (and remain within) an environment that is well-run and ready for growth versus one focused on fighting fires and extremely disorganized.
Now take a look at your internal SharePoint environment. How clear are your teams? How clear are people’s roles in relation to SharePoint? Do you have clear plays that people can execute with minimal hesitation or without excess deliberation? Do you have clear direction and priorities as well as communication? How effective are your SharePoint team members in meeting business needs and business demand?
By the end of this article, I may not be able to give you all the answers to the questions above, but I hope to at least add clarity and give you some practical structure and tactics you can use to achieve effective SharePoint governance.
In particular I will provide answers to the following key questions:
- What is effective SharePoint governance?
- How should I structure my governance teams?
- How does business strategy fit into SharePoint governance?
- What should my governance teams be doing?
Let’s start with what “effective” SharePoint governance is, and what it isn’t.
SharePoint Governance is Not SharePoint Insurance
The majority of governance discussions, presentations and even “implementations” of SharePoint governance have something in common: Mitigating risk. Like an insurance plan, the governance structures, documents and processes are put into place with an emphasis on reducing the risk of common-cited issues such as site sprawl, quality deterioration, end user frustration and SharePoint priority paralysis.
- Site Sprawl: This is a result of un-managed sites and content not being periodically reviewed for accuracy and relevance.
- Quality Deterioration: This is often a result of good initial planning, population and vetting of content by experts, but a failure to ensure continued editorial processes around content within the portal.
- End-User Frustration: This risk has a variety of possible causes. Most often end-user frustration is a result of end users not understanding the business purpose, alignment or benefit of using the platform or is a result of inadequate technology support services being provided.
- Priority Paralysis: This is a result of not having clear decision-making authority/ownership and escalation procedures so that conflicts are resolved in a timely manner. Often it can be a symptom of a larger issue of poor alignment and business strategy as well.
While mitigating real SharePoint risks is important, (and is a result of effective governance), it shouldn’t be the focus.
Instead, key to effective SharePoint governance is to think of it less as “SharePoint insurance” and think of it more as “a way to make your SharePoint investments more successful.” Effective governance is actually more about increasing organizational performance, capability and capacity then it is about mitigating risks.
The simplest way to achieve this result of “making your SharePoint investment more successful” is by creating clear teams, roles and getting those teams to share and work on optimizing existing processes, and leveraging existing (and future) resources to their maximum potential. Just like our football example, if we have specific teams sharing and practicing/working together, we can be more effective than the unstructured alternative.
The Importance of Governance Teams
So what are the strategic and tactical governance teams that are necessary for Effective SharePoint governance?
- Business strategy team
- Solutions/technical strategy team
- Tactical operations team
- Tactical development team
- Tactical support team
Each team is important and has been broken out for a reason. It is possible and acceptable that you have one individual who plays multiple roles on multiple teams. It’s still important for them to understand that they are wearing different hats when playing each role, and have different responsibilities and concerns.
The Business Strategy Team
Perhaps the most overlooked team, this could be called a committee (I even had one company call this the “Executive Enterprise Collaboration and Communication Steering Committee”), but the naming doesn’t matter as much as what this team accomplishes.
Business Strategy is a Part of Effective Governance
Often businesses focus on the technology and solutions when they discuss governance and forget about how important it is to have the business provide clear objectives, priorities and direction for the technology leadership to develop their solution roadmaps and multi-year SharePoint strategies.
The biggest offender for these scenarios is when the business comes up with vague business objectives like “enhancing collaboration” or “automating and improving business processes” and assumes that by using these “positive” statements it will provide the direction necessary for its SharePoint or enterprise content management implementations.
If you take the example of “automating and improving business processes,” that objective is difficult to measure. How do you know when you have successfully automated and improved business processes? What kind of business processes? Which processes? What about these processes are the existing pain points/issues right now? By getting down to a much more specific level, it begins to become obvious what potential solutions SharePoint (or any technology) can provide.
The only way to achieve a measurable level of success (and to be able to define clear solutions) is when we break down these vague objectives into real business concerns, issues, challenges, and pain points and then address them through technology leadership.
The Solution (Technical) Strategy Team
This team defines, aligns and prioritizes the technology solutions based on the business objectives and input from the business strategy team.
They are also responsible for leading the technology enterprise strategy within the company ensuring that a clear platform classification schema has been put into place.
As an example, it’s this team’s responsibility to enforce whether SharePoint will or won’t be the primary document management or application delivery platform for the enterprise. For more information on the importance of defining what SharePoint will and won’t be used for, please read this post on SharePoint is not a silver bullet.
Alignment Between Business,Technology Solutions
Now that we understand how to define business objectives so that they can be measured, we can start coming up with many ways in which we can use technology (namely SharePoint) to help achieve these objectives. When we begin discussing the business requirements that relate to a clear and well defined objective like “automating and improving the onboarding business processes that are paper-based, which are managed by HR…” most technology architects or leaders will begin thinking about how they can use different features and capabilities of the technology platform to support or improve that process.
Once we come up with our solutions, there is an additional challenge of prioritizing which solutions should be developed and implemented first. We can use the importance (and business value) of each objective to help define the priority for our proposed solutions. The easiest way to visualize this is by using a table method where we map our identified objectives to our identified solutions.
What’s important here is that, when a direct relationship or benefit exists between completing a solution and achieving a related business objective, we can see that relationship at a glance. In the same way, if I were to indicate that “enhance collaboration” was our primary and number one business priority, it would guide the order of our solution development (because things that have a direct relationship should be done first).
An additional point of value for this method is that it makes it easier to visualize the importance of certain solutions or projects. This comes in handy when you need to communicate to the business additional staffing or resource needs for specific solutions. When the business challenges you on what benefit that new resource would provide, you should be able to tell them how that resource (and the projects that resource would be accomplishing) directly relate to achieving specific business objectives that they themselves identified and prioritized.
For a full explanation of the method I have used here called “Business Objective Mapping,” please review this previous post on the topic.
Author's Note: Business analysis and a thorough exploration of the business need, processes and requirements are important. For the sake of brevity, I am focusing more on the interaction between technology and the business as the technology providing solutions to business needs. There is an assumption that adequate business analysis, project management and planning is taking place throughout this process.
The solution (technical) strategy team is also responsible for ensuring that the businesses’ expectations are being managed and met accordingly. If there are technical dependencies, unexpected complications or new challenges that come to the surface, it’s important for the tactical teams to report it to the solution (technical) strategy team so that this team can manage business expectations (sometimes with the help of the business strategy team).
The Tactical Operations Team
They manage the more routine maintenance of the system by performing nightly backups, performance monitoring and analysis, and keeping the environment current with security releases and upgrades.
Operational excellence is something every SharePoint implementation should strive to achieve. As this team meets and discusses SharePoint challenges on a regular basis, they will be sure to document some of the following common deliverables and responsibilities:
- Operations objectives/priorities
- Disaster recovery plan
- Storage and quota policies
- Monitoring plans
- Maintenance plans
- Service level agreements
- Security policies
- Deployment process, policies and schedule
The Tactical Development Team
This team is a loosely knit community whose membership ranges from skilled programmers to technically-savvy end users in charge of personalizing departmental team sites.
Development is a challenging and always evolving process within organizations. Over time, important lessons are learned and new patterns and practices take shape. One of the biggest reasons for having this team is to encourage and foster the sharing of best practices and experience between more mature developers and those who are still learning their way around common SharePoint challenges. Here are a few of the common deliverables and responsibilities that come from this team engaging with one another:
- Development objectives/priorities
- Branding guide(s)
- SharePoint designer policy
- Workflow policy
- Development standards (Including OOTB vs. custom)
- Development environment policy
- Testing requirements
- Deployment process, policies and schedule
The Tactical Support Team
Creates and manages a support system with effective training and proper channels of question or issue escalation and resolution. This team should also include influential users and leaders.
The tactical support team is perhaps the most difficult team to organize and maintain. Their priorities and needs change as the businesses demands on SharePoint increase and overall business understanding of SharePoint matures. A few of the common deliverables/responsibilities from this team are as follows:
- Support objectives/priorities
- Site classification and platform classification
- Site provisioning process/questionnaire
- User expectations agreement
- Roles and responsibilities
- Support agreement(s)
- Training and communication plans
- MySite policies (pictures)…
- User lifecycle policy
- Taxonomy management
- Social policies
- Content standards
- Legal and compliance policy
- Search management
Author's Note: If you are interested in getting started on incorporating some standards into your own organization, be sure to visit http://www.SPStandards.com.
Shared Understanding, Shared Commitment
Now as a reader you might be thinking: “We have structured teams. We have an idea of what deliverables might be part of an overall enterprise SharePoint governance plan. We are all set and have effective governance, right?” Unfortunately, this statement is missing something important: Patterns and practices. If the teams, processes and roles aren’t being used on a regular basis, if it’s not part of the natural flow of events in your organization, then you will still have issues (and will find that the long governance plan is rarely updated or leveraged).
I think this quote from one of my clients helps illustrate the point:
Do you have young children, nephews or nieces who play soccer? We all call it Mob Ball. Basically, every child just wants to kick the ball, so the second the ball is in front of them, they go for the kick! Most don’t even care where it’s going. They get so excited in the heat of the moment that they just throw themselves in for the kick.”
What this C-suite executive was explaining was how his organization was perceived at dealing with SharePoint requests, projects and issues. While it was an extreme example, it does reinforce the importance of the staff (or children in Mob Ball) needing to have shared understanding and shared commitment to the developed organizational framework. In this client’s example, their biggest challenge wasn’t having the structure, roles and teams defined. It was getting the staff to have a shared understanding and commitment to supporting and executing in those defined boundaries so that the organization could be more effective over time.
In Summary: The Steps to Effective Governance
When people discuss governance, it quickly becomes unclear as to what it is they are discussing. Managing sites, controlling growth, getting a handle on how SharePoint is being used, and should be used… there are a wide variety of interpretations as to what SharePoint governance is, and how best to “implement” SharePoint governance. The secret is that you don’t “implement” SharePoint governance. It’s not something you just “turn on” or something you can “install” in the processes, procedures and leadership within your organization. It is something you strive toward achieving.
Effective governance is in itself an iterative and rewarding process. It enables the business to get more benefit from their SharePoint investments. At the end of the day it’s up to you how you control those investments.
To learn more on this topic and more, attend the SharePoint Saturday conference in Washington August 11-13. Richard is presenting the topics:
- The Steps to Effective SharePoint Governance
- Is Your SharePoint Really Healthy? What's the Right Prescription?
- SharePoint IA Design 101
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