You won’t have to try too hard to imagine this scenario: you installed an application for a specific department to solve a certain task -- let’s call it marketing automation and team sites in SharePoint. A few months later you come back to find that it has spiraled into dozens of other departments and the system is growing like an insatiable IT monster, set to consume all of your time and resources. And now the fun part: your executive team wants to know how people are using it and why your million dollar projects look and feel a lot like unmanaged shared drives. What do you do?

Got Governance?

Like driving the speed limit and eating 5 servings a day of vegetables, governance is something you know you should do, but often overlook. Not only that, but what IT takes on as “governance” is different than what people in the business unit face with content governance. Traditionally, IT governance has grown into who can access what, and what rights you have on a local machine or shared application. Business governance can loosely be defined around content life cycles, audit trails, taxonomies and information about the content that you have. As you can see only the name is common, and the objectives are radically different.

All projects are started with the intention of doing things the right way, where governance is taken into account. Inevitably though, things happen and can slip, and hard decisions need to be made about how to put processes and controls in place. Is it better to tackle things head-on, or to ease into policies that make sense for users and people in the business unit? When in doubt, try your best to do things right the first time. If you cannot, take the approach that doing things right “this day forward” is better than nothing.

It's Not Too Late

With that in mind, retroactive governance is the best worst thing you could do. You essentially have to declare content bankruptcy and take a hatchet to your systems and organization. If you have ever seen the show “Hoarders,” you'll have a reasonable expectation of what the task will look and feel like. Messy, tiring, but worth it in the end.

Before you tackle this issue with your production environments, let me give you a little tip. Find a service that allows you to test all of your new ideas and policies on a system that you can break without making any career limiting moves. This is your opportunity to do things in a testing or pre-production environment and work out the kinks before you turn things over to your end users. 

Here are some pointers for you to use in dealing with retroactive governance:

  • Create a content blueprint. Remember all the planning and organization you should have done at the beginning? You have to do that now with live content. LOL.
  • Crowdsource organizational rules and ideas from your team. Learn what content is important and how people manage it now.
  • Automation and tools are cool, but there is no replacement for proper planning and preparation. If tools end up working, then be happy, but don’t assume they will work for your use case.
  • Expect it to break. Like assembling IKEA furniture, chances are mistakes will be made. Be patient and leave a little time to work through any challenges you encounter.

As SharePoint and other content management systems continue to grow exponentially, tackling retroactive governance will become more and more common. Being prepared to go back and tackle problems now will keep them from getting even more unwieldy, and help prepare you for the next project.

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