This month I am writing from the Microsoft SharePoint Conference in Anaheim where governance is a recurring theme. I’ve only been to a few sessions so far (I am writing on day 1 of the conference), but governance has been mentioned in every session I’ve been to so far. In the keynote, Jeff Teper claimed, “Governance is not an issue… we have lots of customers doing it on a large scale.” Good, so that’s all sorted then!

This is the third in a series of articles discussing my Art of SharePoint Success framework which consists of four key elements: Governance, Strategy, Architecture and Transition. The first article gave a quick start guide to the framework, quickly covering all four elements, and last month we took a look at the reasons why some SharePoint projects fail. Over the next two months we are going to take a look at the most overused (yet still misunderstood) topic in SharePoint: Governance. We are going to start with the basics -- what it is and what it isn’t.

SharePoint Governance: What It is

In a nutshell, SharePoint governance:

  • Aligns the use of SharePoint technologies with enterprise objectives and strategy
  • Defines accountability and responsibility for SharePoint success
  • Specifies the measures by which success will be measured

The best way to understand SharePoint governance is to look at it in the wider context of enterprise and IT governance. Figure 1 illustrates the relationship between the three disciplines.

Figure 1: SharePoint, IT & Enterprise Governance


Enterprise governance consists of the processes, customs, policies, responsibilities and organizational structures which affect the way an enterprise is directed, administered or controlled. It includes the relationships between the stakeholders, the goals of the organization, and most importantly it ensures accountability.

IT governance is a subset of enterprise governance. It is:

…The leadership and organisational structures and processes that ensure that the organisation’s I.T. sustains and extends the organisation’s strategies and objectives. (Wikipedia 2010)

In modern organizations, IT is of huge strategic importance, either as one of the largest cost centers, or arguably as an enabler of competitive advantage. It is widely recognized that IT governance should be an integral part of enterprise governance, and should be the responsibility of the board and executive management rather than the chief information officer or other IT managers.

The relationship between enterprise and IT governance is illustrated by translating common enterprise governance questions into specific IT governance questions (Oudi 2010).

Table 1: The relationship between Enterprise & IT Governance

Corporate Governance Questions IT Governance Questions
How do the suppliers of finance get managers to return some profit to them? How do the board and executive management get their CIO and IT organization to return some business value to them?
How do the suppliers of finance make sure that managers do not steal the capital they supply or invest it in bad projects? How do the board and executive management make sure that the CIO and their IT organizations do not steal the capital they supply or invest it in bad projects?
How do the suppliers of finance control managers? How do the board and the executive management control the CIO and the IT organization?

Enterprise governance should drive and set IT governance. IT in its turn can influence strategic opportunities as outlined by the enterprise and can provide critical input into strategic plans. In this way, IT governance enables the enterprise to take full advantage of its information and can be seen as a driver for corporate governance.

SharePoint governance is a subset of IT governance. One of the most commonly cited definitions is that SharePoint governance:

..Uses People, Policy, Technology and Process to resolve ambiguity, manage short and long range goals and mitigate conflict within an organisation. It covers usage and design; structure and a framework to measure success. (Craig Roth 2009, “Governance, Politics, and Diplomacy with SharePoint: Success Factors Beyond Technology” presentation, SharePoint Conference 2009, Las Vegas)

Much of the confusion over SharePoint governance is concerned with the relationship and differences between the related concepts of management and operations.

In simplistic terms (Liu 2010):

  • Governance is concerned with vision and the translation of vision into policy
  • Management is concerned with making the decisions needed to implement policy
  • Operations is concerned with implementing managerial decisions

Table 2 illustrates an example of SharePoint governance, management and operations.

Table 2: SharePoint Governance, Management and Operations

Vision & Policy (Governance) SharePoint will support our objectives for greater innovation; increased sales; and improved operational efficiency
SharePoint will be our Enterprise Collaboration platform
Decision (Management) We will implement a Project Management Portal based on SharePoint
Implementation (Operations) Implementation and on-going maintenance of a project management portal

SharePoint Governance: What It Isn’t

Many of the topics commonly associated with SharePoint governance in Microsoft’s literature, published material, and blogs and websites actually relate to management, operations, or a combination of both. For example:

  • Technical “best practices”
  • Information architecture
  • Logical architecture
  • User interface design or branding
  • Site lifecycle management

All of these topics are vital to the success of SharePoint within an organization. A SharePoint governance framework should define who is responsible and accountable for them, but the detailed policies and processes do not relate to governance.

I’ve read several books and whitepapers on the subject of SharePoint governance that claim to focus on the back end or technical side of governance, and there are a number of sessions here at the SharePoint Conference that make similar claims in the session descriptions. In my view there is no such thing as technical or back-end governance. Anything to do with technology relates to IT operations or IT architecture. Does it matter if we call “operations,” “governance”? Yes, because then what do we call governance? And how do we know we are doing it?

I was walking around the expo hall at the SharePoint conference a few days ago and noticed several vendors offering software solutions that claim to help organizations to get control of SharePoint chaos. Many of these vendors position their products as “Governance” solutions. I am sure that the vendors are all reputable and their products can be valuable investments for some organizations. But it’s not governance! Governance isn’t something you do by installing a piece of software. Governance, like so much of SharePoint, is about people, not technology.

For Next Time…

Next month we will wrap up the discussion of governance by looking at how to do it. We will explore five common governance models, discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each, and give clear recommendations on what you need to be doing.

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