4 ways to build SharePoint Governance Confidence
In a series of surveys last year of more than 1,000 SharePoint administrators and business professionals, much was learned about how people "perceived" their organizations to be handling their SharePoint governance strategy. The data showed a large gap between those perceptions and what governance actually looked like inside businesses. 

Of the respondents, 67% viewed SharePoint governance as critical to the success of the platform, but only a mere 26% of respondents believed they have a well-defined strategy.

After conversations with customers and partners discussing the state of SharePoint within their organizations, the governance gap is clear and people are looking for reassurance that their planning is moving in the right direction. The most common questions include:

  • Where should I begin?
  • What are the best practices?
  • What does Microsoft recommend?
  • How do I manage change?
  • Who should be involved?

Many similarities between the need for governance planning and building out project management offices (PMOs) have become evident over the past 20 years of working in the space. One of the primary roles of a good PMO is to build an environment of trust and communication with your customer organizations to help with internal, platform and customer experience improvements. There are some people that your company will trust more than others, especially when something goes wrong, and these people are needed to quickly step in to assess things, formulate a plan and then tell you not to worry. These PMOs are trusted and your business has confidence in them.

With this in mind, your business also needs to build this level of trust and confidence into a SharePoint governance strategy. How? While there is no easy button, here are four principles that helped grow confidence in building PMOs and which can be applied to a governance strategy:

1. Make the Process Visible

When trying to build confidence within any organization, keeping processes open and visible to all levels is key to success. Using public whiteboards to outline a team’s process, priorities and status of requests can improve project management. Once confidence is gained through this public process, a transition can be made to online tools including SharePoint, where data can be found by simply logging into the PMO site. This helps continue to raise the visibility of a team, and the great work being accomplished.

The same applies to a governance strategy. Make the work you do to organize and define policies and procedures a matter of public discourse. One of the more successful governance initiatives I led started with a town hall-type event, with Q&A from anyone interested and passionate enough to raise their hand. And our regular governance body meetings were open door, with end users and executives alike joining one or two meetings when something they had a vested interest in was being discussed.

2. Provide Timely Updates

Nothing is more frustrating than to never hear back from a project manager when you know the status has changed. If a project is urgent and work is at a standstill, sometimes updating a SharePoint task list at the end of the day is insufficient. You can never err on the side of too much communication. With governance planning, you must include a solid communication strategy and use common sense to increase or decrease the level of communication based on the immediacy of the workload in front of you and the maturity of your governance plan over time.

3. Constantly Optimize

Governance is never a static activity, so don't roll out a plan, document it within a binder and then put that binder on a shelf to gather dust and be forgotten. Project activities, reporting and communication strategies constantly evolve because of changing business requirements and the evolving needs of your customers. Constantly look for ways to improve your governance strategy.

I always considered it a huge win to refine a governance activity, thereby reducing the amount of time the organization had to spend thinking about governance. Of course, optimizing may also mean you uncover something you had not earlier considered, which could add time and effort. It's an ebb and flow. But for the most part, if you plan properly up front, the process aspect of the work is sure to decrease.

4. Ask For, and Take Action On, Feedback

The underlying message within this list is to talk to your customers, whether they're internal end users, or external paying customers. Make a point of regularly asking each person involved whether the governance body is missing anything. Some people have no problem speaking up in a crowd -- the hard part of working with people is recognizing when people are not so forthcoming with feedback. Instead, look for different opportunities to reach out and connect so that you can get a more complete view of what people think.

The answers to the most common questions I outlined above are never what people want to hear. Talking to people is hard work. They have opinions. They ask for things. They expect you to deliver. There is no shrink-wrapped set of answers for implementing governance. Unfortunately, it’s hard work, and it takes time. But there are definitely benefits to doing that hard work -- chief amongst them is having happy end users.

To answer the question of how to build confidence into a governance strategy, starting as soon as possible is a big factor. Develop best practices by learning from the success of others, but adapt their solutions to fit your own culture. For example, Microsoft provides plenty of content around optimal settings and system limitations, which is a good place to start, but configure your systems based on a solid understanding of your own business requirements. Adapt those policies (content limits, permissions settings, information rights management policies) with a consistent and transparent change management process, so that employees and customers understand why changes are being made, and where their requests fit into the priorities of the larger organization or project. And do your best to allow anyone who wants to be involved to participate, in some way. There is generally a self-vetting process in a very short amount of time, and the right people for ongoing governance board participation will surface themselves.

When people are heard, it builds confidence in your strategy.

Title image courtesy of Michael D Brown (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: To get more of Christian's SharePoint insights, read his Seven Steps to a Successful SharePoint Governance Plan