Governance in SharePoint – Part 1

Governance has been a hot topic in SharePoint for the last couple of years now. If you’re an avid reader of blog posts or have attended any SharePoint related conferences in that time, it’s unlikely that you haven’t been exposed to the ‘G’ word. Companies are being created with a governance consultancy focus, vendors are releasing applications to automate governance – it’s something that, if it hasn’t already, is starting to gain widespread traction in organisations that implement SharePoint.

It was with this in mind that I set out to consume as much governance-related content over the Christmas period as I could fit in – and there is a lot out there. From blog posts to books to white papers, one thing that became apparent was that the definition of what governance in SharePoint is and should entail was as diverse as the amount of content that was out there.

This series is not intended to be revolutionary – it is more an amalgamation of all the information and resources I absorbed in the past couple of weeks. As I wrote reams of unattributed notes as I went, my referencing may not be specifically as accurate as I would like – but all the resources I used over the time will be reflected within these posts.

The first part of this series will focus on some of the key thoughts, definitions and critical factors of developing and implementing SharePoint governance. Part 2 of the series will explore some of the best practical and theoretical frameworks I’ve come across to effectively apply SharePoint governance. Part 3 will identify some of the main aspects for consideration when creating a SharePoint governance plan and part 4 will highlight some of the main out-of-the-box features that can be harnessed in SharePoint to implement governance policies, standards and procedures.

So, what is SharePoint Governance anyway?

Based on everything i’ve since read about SharePoint governance there seems to be 2 schools of thought when it comes to what it actually is or should be about. In my opinion the term is generally overused but perhaps only because its definition is so broad. There is the school of thought that treats governance as being about control, risk management and assurance and another which treats it as being about guiding the business to achieve their goals.

In reality it’s probably a bit of both – it involves facilitation and guidance on the most effective ways to achieve business goals and the rules and compliance necessary to ensure all the safety nets are in place to enable the system to run smoothly and effectively.

There are a lot of great quotes around the internet which bring home this message, some of my favourites which i’ll highlight below:

Governance is defined as a framework of guidelines to create processes and controls that avoid or limit the impact of risks – it is about control and managing risksSharePoint Development and Governance using CoBIT 4.1

Governance is about risk management, or providing assurance to stakeholders.

Governance should be the what, why, who and how to get from the present state to a future aspirational state. It is a means to an end, not the end itself. It relies on shared understanding of what the problem is and where we need to get to for it to be considered solved. It relies on metrics which are not platitudes to measure the success of the project. – Paul Culmsee, author of CleverWorkarounds and the highly relevant (and ongoing) Confessions of a (post) SharePoint architect governance series

Governance needs to be aligned with the business goals and vision, the whole purpose of governance is to help use SharePoint to achieve these business goals. – Ant Clay, author of The SharePoint Governance Manifesto, the 5 Pillars of Governance and Governance 3.0

One important aspect of Governance is actually Guidance.

Governance is the set of policies, roles, responsibilities, and processes that guide, direct and control how an organisation’’s business divisions and IT teams cooperate to achieve business goals. – TechNet Governance Planning series and Resource Centre

Governance is the rules of the road, how those rules are enforced, who is responsible for making the rules, who is responsible for applying them and most importantly an opportunity to align your technology with the business – that is the key – it results in buy-in and a willingness to take on the responsibilities of governance. – Jim Adcock, author of the SharePoint Therapist and particularly his SharePoint Governance series

Communicating and Documenting SharePoint Governance

A common thread amongst the SharePoint governance literature was that how governance is documented and communicated throughout an organisation is critical to the ultimate success of the process. Too often the output of a governance initiative is a thick multi-page document that no one will ever read or apply – the below quotes highlight some of the best guidance in this area:

Governance isn’t a bloody huge document that no one reads, outputs should be small and relevant. They should be targeted and consumable – they are pointless if no one reads them. Should include short section-based plans and an overall 2 page cheat sheet. – paraphrased from various authors

Governance documentation should be a living, breathing document, it should be revisited as more is learnt and feedback is received.

Governance documents should be written in plain English, succinct and relevant. It must apply continuous improvement principles to it – it must evolve. – Ant Clay

Governance needs to be communicated throughout the organisation. – paraphrased from various authors

A governance plan doesn’t replace the need to provide training and training should include the governance plan. Training material should also reference the governance associated with it so it gets delivered in context, just in time. – Susan Hanley, co-author of Essential SharePoint 2010 Governance, Top 10 Considerations for SharePoint 2010 Governance and a number of quality white papers and presentations including a free governance chapter from the aforementioned book

For governance to be absorbed and followed by the business, it needs to be about them. Communicate how governance is necessary to help them get their job done, helps them to make good choices to achieve a good experience and match business objectives, saves time and delivers a better outcome. – Susan Hanley

A roadmap should be created that links governance material and training to the current state or task at hand, meaning that content doesn’t need to be consumed all up front.

Governance ‘sign-posting’ provides in-line governance visually within the site and content being created. – Ant Clay

A governance plan needs to be tailored to the organisation, all governance plans will be different. – paraphrased from various authors

Reporting on governance metrics / success is important to show that the governance is working. – paraphrased from various authors

SharePoint Governance as a Continuous Improvement Cycle

One of the most important take aways from multiple authors was the fact that governance should not be considered an apply-once solution. It was a consistent message across multiple sources of information – governance should be continually improved and re-aligned to ensure it remains effective and relevant. Metrics need to be defined with baselines measured up front to allow the success of the governance process to be measured and reported on and user adoption needs to be a consistent theme when implementing SharePoint governance. A couple of the best quotes regarding the continuous improvement cycle of SharePoint governance are highlighted below:

SharePoint projects are people projects and people projects are emergent and therefore they are most definitely not a one shot solution. Thus governance should take into consideration the ability to improve and adapt a system. – Ant Clay

Governance is too often implemented after the fact and when problems arise, or right at the start in a one-and-done fashion. It should be more of an iterative cycle. – Chris McNulty, author of 2012 is the Year for SharePoint Governance and The 5 Pillars of SharePoint Governance

In this post we’ve briefly touched on some of the key thoughts, definitions and critical factors of developing and implementing SharePoint governance. Of course there is no way this particular post could have been exhaustive – i’d recommend you read the remainder of this series and all related links from them to get the most out of your SharePoint governance learning journey. The next post in this series, Governance in SharePoint – Part 2, will explore some of the best practical and theoretical frameworks I’ve come across to effectively apply SharePoint governance.

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