SharePoint Governance and The Balance

For many, SharePoint Governance is a document, a contract, between the people who support SharePoint and the rest of the organization that sets forth:

  •  policies,
  •  rules,
  • roles,
  • and responsibilities

of the system. Failure to manage these four areas could jeopardize the success of SharePoint in the organization.

 These four areas, like the four legs to a chair, provide a stable platform on which to build an organization’s SharePoint environment. SharePoint Governance can group these four areas into the following four groups within the organization.

  • Operational Management: This group defines the roles and responsibilities of those who are ultimately responsible for the SharePoint portals within the organization. This group can consist of a governance committee or simply a few of the organization’s top executives. They identify the overall features of SharePoint that will be used within the organization. Effectively, this group defines the policies related to SharePoint.
  • Technical Operations: This group defines the technical structures of how SharePoint will be deployed, any software and hardware requirements, specific features to activate, uptime availability, backups, authentication, and which classes of users can access different elements of the portal effectively defining internal and external sites. These activities largely define the rules around the SharePoint implementation.
  • Site and Security Administration: This group is responsible for the creation and destruction of sites as needed along with defining site ownership and the corresponding responsibilities of different user groups within each site or class of sites. They define best practices on defining permissions and provide support on how best to organize site collections. Security within SharePoint is established by the individual’s role within the site.
  • Content Administration: This final group defines the nitty-gritty details of how to load and display content within the site. It is responsible for creating guidelines for the use of content types, workflows, metadata, and various web parts to achieve content goals. They may also help determine life-cycles for content retention policies and policies used to enforce the archiving and deleting of older content. This group identifies and assists users with their responsibilities for building and maintaining sites.

However, failure of SharePoint to succeed because one or more of the legs of that governance chair are not stable should not be indicative of an inherent problem with SharePoint. In fact, failure to create and then follow the governance policies, rules, or recommendations is more of an indication of the failure of the organization. If an organization cannot create a governance document that manages SharePoint usage, that is indicative of a greater potential problem, one in which top management may not support the use of the tool or understand its needs or benefits in the first place. This lack of support could be an early warning sign that the project may not be valued within the organization.

Even with governance for SharePoint or for any other product in place, it remains only a paper (or electronic) document unless management establishes an infrastructure to enforce it. Once policies, rules, roles, or responsibilities start to be bent or ignored in small ways, it is a slippery slope to the point where everyone ignores the governance document and chaos begins to take over. It may not be long before top management begins looking for a new solution, one that will magically cure all the current perceived problems. It may not occur to them that simply enforcing the original governance would alleviate most if not all of the current problems. On the other hand, enforcing strict standards in the name of governance is like putting blinders on a horse that could prevent the organization for discovering that there are better tools and better ways of doing things.

Furthermore, do not interpret governance to limit when or if an organization can switch tools or processes. Switching tools should always be possible, especially if another product with significantly better features or improved functionality becomes available. Governance does not address the issues of when a tool or process becomes obsolete. It merely addresses how to use that tool while it is in use.

At the same time that governance should define specific actions or activities, it should be a living document that can change over time to satisfy new demands. If those demands can be met by making small changes to the product or the way it is used, the overall costs of meeting the organizations needs will be minimized. Thought of in another way, governance is nothing more than a roadmap in which the organization can achieve the maximum benefits from a process or tool while minimizing the costs. It keeps everyone moving in the same direction rather than letting everyone to go off in different directions doing their own thing. Governance that is too strict can strangle an organizations ability to adapt and create new solutions to problems. Governance that is too loose will prevent directed and organized progress toward a goal.

A balanced governance approach can be in everyone’s best interest but can be difficult to obtain.


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