Governance For All


I was thinking about SharePoint governance today and its effect on the success or failure of SharePoint. Fundamentally, SharePoint governance is a document that forms an agreement between the people who support SharePoint and rest of the organization. It then dawned on me that I could substitute SharePoint for any other system. However governance is an umbrella covering many things such as policies, rules, roles, and responsibilities. Within that umbrella of governance, I would like to think of these four areas as represented by the four legs of a chair, the chair being the system. Failure of any one leg may not make the chair crash, but it will make it less stable. Failure of more than one leg can cause the chair to collapse.

The same is true of SharePoint governance. Without adequate policies, rules, roles, and responsibilities, your SharePoint implementation may be on the verge of collapse. The hidden problem at many organizations is that even if you initially create a sound governance policy, if it is not followed and enforced, it may be as bad as not having a governance policy at all. What may begin innocently enough as a minor exception to the rules or policies here and there, can quickly slide down the slippery slope to total chaos. Stay with me a minute.

While governance may seem to be filled with a lot of rigid policies and rules, governance, whether for SharePoint or for any other major system in your organization, must be flexible. It must be almost an organic thing. By that I mean that it must be adaptable to the changing needs of the organization. A change in needs might be something major such as the addition of outward facing web sites to your existing farm of collaboration sites, or it may be something as simple as a font change used for the body of content. The thing to remember is that all change sets a precedence. The question you should ask is whether that is a good precedence that you want to set or a bad one?

Once policies and rules are established and made part of the governance, then changes or exceptions to these policies need to be very carefully vetted and then added to the governance so it does not open the door to other changes that may be less desirable. For example, if the initial governance called for Arial fonts, exceptions might be made for other similar fonts such as Calibri. However, as soon as you begin allowing Times Roman or Impact, you are on the path to allowing Broadway, Playbill, and even Comic Sans Serif. But governance can stop that that by specifying that any font from a limited list of fonts can be used, but only one font can be used per page or per subsite. The same can be said for colors, page layouts (themes), and other visual effects. In addition, the governance should define a method to request changes to policies and rules. Perhaps those requests get funneled through a single person, but more likely they should go to a committee that decides on any governance changes.

However, even if you have all the policies, rules, roles and responsibilities well defined and you have a committee to review and approve or reject any changes to the governance, if you do not have upper management’s full support of the governance, your efforts are in vain. Like a dragon without fiery breath or at least large sharp teeth, users will soon realize that they can get away with anything with no more consequences than your pitiful cry to never do that again. You must have management’s support to enforce the governance.

The problem is that maybe management just came back from a conference, or perhaps it was from a free seminar provided by an alternative vendor who provided a lunch ‘n learn at the local steak restaurant. While the product demoed does basically the same thing as your current product, marketing demos are very good (or they should be) at highlighting the best features of the product making it look like the new and most desirable product on the market. Rarely does the demo go into how much time or skill was needed to set up the demo. Of course demos are meant to look flawless and so simply that your dog could do it with one paw tied behind its back. It is your job to be able to tell the difference between a well-crafted demo and a system that is truly easy to use before your organization starts spending money on something it really does not need.

But here is another big ugly secret. No system can be successful without governance and top management support. Individuals resist change. They will refuse to learn how to use a system. They will claim a system is too hard to learn or to use. They will blame their own mistakes on the system or on the restrictive governance policies or the lack of training that fits their exact circumstance. Management must lead from the top down with strong reasons why the policies and rules will serve the organization as well as the users better. Governance gives them a way to make that happen by formalizing the policies, rules, roles, and responsibilities of any major undertaking. Governance is leadership by getting out in front of everyone and saying, ‘Follow me and be successful.’

Well I’m off to another SQL Saturday this weekend again, this time in South Florida. How does this fit into today’s mini topic? At SQL Saturday there will be hundreds of individuals who as DBAs or developers use SQL Server and have policies and rules they follow when using SQL Server. They have specific roles defining what they can and what they cannot do. They have certain responsibilities to perform specific tasks using SQL Server. What makes SQL Server work or not work within their organizations is largely dependent on how well they embrace the governance around creating, using and maintaining databases and the processes that access those databases within their organizations.

You see it is not just about SharePoint or SQL Server or any other specific product. The need for governance applies across all products and activities in the organization as does the need for management support of that activity. No organization would arbitrarily switch from using SQL Server to Hadoop to Informix to ingres to Oracle to Postgres to Access or any other database system every couple of years. Rather, they would choose a product that best fits their needs and wring out all the value they can from it by insuring that their staff is trained and supported in its use. Don’t expect a new product to somehow produce magical results. If anyone is responsible for magically results, it is an organization’s people. What does your governance say about how you use technology and your staff?

C’ya next time.

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