In his keynote address at the SharePoint Conference in Anaheim, CA earlier this month, Microsoft CVP Jeff Teper, who many in the community refer to as the "Godfather of SharePoint," stated that governance "is not an issue in SharePoint 2010." That claim caused a bit of a stir from the audience, and Twitter was suddenly jammed with feedback and speculation.

Following the session, a few of us discussed the claim. My interpretation of his comment is that all of the tools you require to implement your governance policies and procedures are available in SharePoint 2010, either through out-of-the-box capability or various third-party solutions. In my estimation, his statement was that the technology is not the issue, but that governance is more of a process and planning issue. And if my interpretation is correct, then Teper was correct. Governance is not an issue in SharePoint 2010.

One of the key takeaways from the conference was the role of planning and governance in every successful SharePoint deployment. This theme ran through many of the sessions, but was probably best summarized by Susan Hanley (@susanhanley) in her session "Practical Approach to SharePoint Governance: The Key to Successful SharePoint 2010 Solutions."

Hanley began her presentation with two ideas that rest at the heart of the governance discussion: chaos and order. She started things out by quoting Francis Ford Coppola, who said, "Anything you build on a large scale or with passion invites chaos." This was the perfect introduction to the world of SharePoint governance. Those who have been through a new deployment, or who have taken over management of an existing SharePoint system, have experienced both the passion and the ensuing chaos. Of course, this can be said of any large enterprise application rollout.

A Successful SharePoint Governance Strategy

The role of governance is to organize the chaos, helping the organization to navigate through the planning process, and to provide decision support on an ongoing basis. Hanley also offered an analogy from Jornata CEO and SharePoint MCM (Microsoft Certified Master) Scott Jamison (@sjam), who likened governance to understanding the rules of the road, the policies and guidelines that keep traffic flowing -- and drivers out of a head on collision. She then proceeded to walk through 10 steps that she uses as a consultant to help customers navigate the chaos, and create order around SharePoint, walking the audience through her own rules of the road to help them build -- and maintain -- a successful SharePoint governance strategy:

1. Identify an inclusive team.

Find your key stakeholders, those who have a vested interest in the platform, and put together a team of people representing various aspects of the organization and different roles. A diversity of perspectives will help you to build a strong platform. It is also critical to have an executive sponsor, as decisions will need to be made that cut across different organizations -- and you will need the support of someone on the executive team to ensure things go smoothly.

2. Start with "framing" decisions.

Understand "why" you are building a solution before going down the path of "what" to build. Understand the scope of the problem to be solved, the priorities, the end-user expectations. Every SharePoint deployment begins as a business analyst activity, so understand the business problems to be addressed -- before technology enters the picture.

3. Determine your deployment model.

What are your resources, people and hardware, to deploy this platform? With all of the options for on-premises, cloud and now Office365, what is the best model for your organization?

4. Define a clear vision.

Have a plan, have a framework, and communicate it.

5. Identify roles and responsibilities.

If people understand their part, they are more likely to play it. Identify what is needed for the project and make assignments. Be clear on ownership, where you need approval, where you need people to review, and at what level you want them to participate. And then hold people to their commitments.

6. Develop guiding principles.

Work together to create a set of guiding principles, agreeing on how you will make decisions going forward. It's important that the governance team remain on the same page throughout the project so that roadblocks can be cleared as quickly as possible.

7. Decide your organizational comfort level with social computing.

Just because the features are offered doesn't mean you should turn them all on. Understand the "social maturity" of your organization, and tap into the tools that people are comfortable with. These tools can help you raise the level of transparency and communication, or they can further isolate those who are not comfortable with the technology. Do what makes sense to help the team.

8. Define policies and guidelines.

Outline the structure for how the team will work together, including meeting schedule, agendas, change management, issue resolution and so forth. Be flexible on these things, as you'll learn as you go. Adjust them as necessary.

9. Document the plan.

Create an outline of each step -- the decisions made, the areas of ownerships and the many assignments. Get agreement and then sign off, including that of your executive sponsor. Going through this formal process will help cement their commitment to the plan.

10. Socialize and promote.

Once the plan is baked, communicate it. Get feedback, and use your new process to make adjustments as the broader end-user community provides their feedback.

Focus First on Foundational Governance Structure

The underlying message in Hanley's session was clear: the secrets to successful system deployments are rarely technical in nature. Most problem-solving comes down to people issues -- how to understand people, get along with them and work together. SharePoint planning is no different. But by following these steps, focusing first on building a foundational governance structure with the right team in the right roles, and you will dramatically improve the chances of a successful SharePoint deployment.

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