How to Jump Start Your Governance – Part 2

Originally published on EndUserSharePoint.com

In a previous article, I identified one of the most common questions surrounding the process of implementing a governance mode in the enterprise: How do you begin?

Because SharePoint tends to be a user-driven technology, many companies find themselves in a position of having to retroactively apply metadata rules, refine (or, if they haven’t done so already, define) their taxonomy, and roll out some kind of governance model in an effort to take back control of a quickly expanding (like a wildfire!) SharePoint environment. In the article, I recommended some basic but critical first steps to implementing a governance model:

  1. Create an internal SharePoint user group. Gather a group of those who run SharePoint, who are interested in learning about SharePoint, and those who know your business. Meet weekly, monthly – whatever makes sense as you start to put together your plans. Bounce ideas off one another, share responsibilities, but most important of all – incorporate the various perspectives into your plan so that your governance model better matches the culture of your group and company.
  2. Clearly define roles and responsibilities. Outline the necessary functions to deploy and govern. Figure out what you need at the enterprise, organizational, and site level. Put a process in place (like OARP) to help the decision-making process.
  3. Outline your taxonomy, communicate it, and iterate. The point here is to get started. Don’t wait for perfection – outline what you know, roll it out, and let your users refine it as they go. It’s an iterative process that needs ongoing management, so just do your best and let the process work.

Sounds easy, right? It’s all common sense, right? And yet many companies struggle with these concepts. Following on the theme of common sense, I’d like to provide some additional guidance and best practices around jumpstarting your SharePoint governance.

My intent here is not to prescribe a process or outline specific steps, but to give you some ideas, get you thinking, and hopefully add good things to what may already be in motion. Consider the following:

  • Have a plan. That’s right – a plan! Listen to the experts, comb through the relevant articles, consider those best practices, and develop a plan based on your organizational and project needs. Help your management team and end users to understand the full scope of the project – that it’s not just about a technical implementation, but that it is also a business process change.
  • Understand any regulatory or compliance concerns. Are there any rules or procedures having to do with legal or financial guidelines that may dictate how you setup and/or manage your SharePoint environment? Do you need to maintain audit trails? Reporting? Workflows? Metrics? These items would fall into the scoping and sizing of your project during the planning phase. 
  • Be aware of how your metadata, content types, and social media components are to be managed. What is the actual process involved with managing these things? Who owns it? What is the change process? Are you going to try and maintain SLAs? This might be overkill for small businesses, but is critical for larger businesses. A major impact to end user adoption is a long turn-around time for system changes. Some of these activities are simplified within SharePoint 2010 through Managed Metadata Service and Enterprise Term Stores, which allow you to create top-level taxonomy for your entire organization, with sites consuming this taxonomy as a service. Then each site can create its own taxonomy – which other sites may or may not consume as a service. But just remember, SharePoint 2010 does not decrease the need for governance. If anything, the ability for end users to apply their own metadata  will create more work for site and site collection admins, if metadata is to be managed properly.(Microsoft refers to top-down as a ‘taxonomy,’ and a bottom-up or user-define as a ‘folksonomy’) SharePoint 2010 has made strong advances in managing taxonomy and metadata for the enterprise, but it still requires upfront and ongoing work to ensure you have the latest, greatest data.
  • Create a governance site. Make your policies visible. When people ask questions, point them to an ever-expanding FAQ list (Use SharePoint! Don’t create yet another document). Update the site regularly. Make it functional, not just a one-time dumping ground for rarely used process documentation. And be sure to constantly refresh your governance site. This should not be a static site, but a working platform from which you manage your process, take suggestions, and change as needed.
  • Enlist your portal users and content authors. This goes beyond my advice for creating a user group, and relates to all end users. Give them a voice in the process. Get regular feedback from your business units and content authors. To capture this data, use search metrics, discussion threads, and polls. Once again, capturing data at regular intervals should be part of your initial project planning, as this will also provide a mechanism for reporting back to management on the progress – and success – of your SharePoint deployment. 
  • Migrate your content, leverage your metadata. Depending on where you are with your SharePoint environment – just rolling it out, or in the process of revamping/cleaning up your existing system – you may have different tasks in front of you. There are a number of approaches to upgrade or migration, either manually or using third-party tools. Whatever the approach, be sure to follow your newly-defined taxonomy. You’ve taken all that time to outline your taxonomy and complex metadata structure, it’s only fitting that you actually use it. Update as you go, propagate your changes, and keep the feedback loop with your end users running.
  • Learn and evolve – Nothing is set in stone. Portals evolve – and so will the taxonomy. You’ll rarely get it right on the first try, but you’ll lose time and productivity the longer you sit idle, so the key is to take action and iterate, iterate, iterate. 

Hopefully this guidance is useful, and helps you to take action. My advice on how to move forward remains the same: keep your governance model simple, let your processes grow and develop organically, and keep your end users in the loop. If they understand the governance model, they’ll use it. If you are transparent about the process, and can quickly respond to user requests and changing business needs because you’ve kept it simple, they’ll trust it. And if they’re using the application and trusting the change process, your management team is more likely to view your overall SharePoint efforts as a success.

Good luck.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Servers and Services MVP, the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and CMO of revealit.io, a blockchain-based video technology company.