wall full of binders
PHOTO: Viktor Talashuk

Governing SharePoint in Office 365 can be a bit tricky. Creating a new method for governance was the key to helping my customers navigate this new world. We've already covered ideas for creating your team, organizing meetings and creating a plan in the first article in this series. In the second article we looked at how settings in the Admin Centers can help you achieve your governance goals.

Next, we turn to information governance. I emphasize this part the most because the amount of planning here can make or break a SharePoint implementation. Let’s look at a few key elements of information governance and best practices for SharePoint in Office 365, including the architecture of sites and governing content within a site.

SharePoint Site Architecture

Bear with me for a moment on this analogy, but do you remember Flat Stanley? He was a character in a book from the mid-1960s. The premise was that he was flattened (wow, children’s books in the 1960s were terrifying) but made the most of his new state and was able to quickly and easily move to any location. 

Where am I going with this? 

Well, Microsoft is currently recommending that site architectures for SharePoint be a lot more like Flat Stanley (i.e. easily mobile). In the past we would typically create a few site collections and then build nested subsites beneath those site collections. Now we are finding that all sites, even those that were once subsites, should be created as site collections. In turn making your site hierarchy ... wait for it … flat.  

Why flat? One benefit is sites in a flat structure are more mobile as organizational structures are known for constant changes. For companies still concerned about having no hierarchy, Microsoft has pushed the concept of hub sites. With the hub feature, businesses can create an invisible structure by connecting other site collections to a hub site collection, allowing for global navigation, common look and feel, and rolled up content. 

The key when planning site architecture is to move your existing site hierarchies into a flat structure and use hub sites to create any necessary hierarchy. Just as important as the initial structure is having a plan for growth. Ask questions like when a new site collection is created, who decides when and if it gets connected to a hub? Who creates new hub sites? My recommendation is giving the governance team tight control over hub sites for several months to see how things evolve. Another recommendation would be to consider removing the option to create subsites in a site collection. This will prevent users from returning to old nested site structures when you aren’t looking. You can adjust this setting in the SharePoint Admin Center. 

hub site

While on the topic of users creating sites, something else to remember is the concept of self-service site creation is now fully integrated into Office 365. Users can not only create new site collections from the SharePoint home, but they also now have a link to do so right inside existing modern sites. Planning and communication is key here. The governance team should create guidelines around when and why sites should be created. They should also provide naming guidelines. The last thing you want is for someone to grab an important URL like “global finance” for a site just being used for testing. 

A final piece of advice: I strongly recommend looking at Site Designs. This is the new way of doing templating for sites. If you have specific guidelines around how users should design their project or team sites, you can do a lot of that work for them with a site design, allowing them to create a site that meets company guidelines with a click of a button. Think things like permissions, specific list or library requirements, adding the site to an existing hub site, etc.

Related Article: SharePoint Hub Sites Have Arrived

Managing Content Inside SharePoint

Opinions on the best practices for managing content inside a SharePoint site have shifted over the years. Classic versions of SharePoint called for information architecture and metadata to be very structured. In fact, things like the Term Store, once extremely important to many organizations, appear to be slowly fading into the background. Microsoft may still release a modern version of the Term Store at some point; however, the fact there are no updates or mention of it could be telling. Even the use of folders in document libraries is no longer prohibited. Most consultants still recommend no more than two levels of folders and trying to use metadata and views as much as possible for ease of use and search, but if you are moving from another cloud document storage solution, sometimes folders are a necessary evil to assist with adoption. I recommend governance teams work to ensure people are well trained on the functionalities of modern lists and libraries and that they understand the pros and cons of metadata and folders.

If anything, I would focus on large libraries and come up with better retention and structures to make those libraries easier to use and navigate. The Security and Compliance center is a great tool for planning retention. Retention policies can be created and automatically applied to content in specific SharePoint sites or even OneDrive. An end user can also manually add the retention label. This label can be used to determine how long content is retained for, if it needs to be automatically deleted, or trigger a notification for the user to review and either archive or manually delete the content. In a self-service site creation world, a governance team should focus much more on having solid retention policies in place over tightly controlled and mandated metadata. It's a shift, but an important one that will allow an organization to gain valuable control over their content.

label settings

In the next article in this series we will take another look at information governance in Office 365, this time with a focus on securing sites and content.

Related Article: Your Intranet Is Only as Good as Your Metadata