The Conversation Around Content Governance

I am fascinated by the conversations that I have at events around the world about governance. Almost every single conversation starts out the same way – and I don’t even have to say anything. People just start the conversation with the same basic statement: “The problem is that nobody can agree on a definition.”

At SharePoint Saturday New York City, I was invited to speak on the topic of content governance. The slides, if you’d like to peruse them, are here:

I tend to start my presentations on the topic with a similar comment, telling people that anyone trying to define it is likely trying to sell you something. And that coming from a person who is trying to sell you something [insert smiley here]. What is important to understand is that while the definitions may vary depending on your company culture, industry, or technical/management role, the intent is to put in place guiding principles to help you achieve business outcomes. What usually comes out of these presentations is great conversation. I love it when they are interactive – it becomes much more meaningful for the audience, and for me. That’s what happened at SPSNYC. It wasn’t the largest audience, and things were quiet at first, but people became engaged, some great questions were asked, and a real conversation followed.

SPSNYC 001My underlying message was fairly simple: have poorly defined business goals, and the governance principles you employ are meaningless. Have solid business goals and poorly defined governance principles, and you’ll have a difficult time achieving those goals.

The tendency for many presenters, including myself, is to quickly jump into tactical solutions. We’re eager to move past understanding and straight into problem solving, because that’s where we’re most comfortable. In a consulting relationship, I would spend a lot of time discussing strategic concepts and trying to understand and document the current state of the business before ever proposing a solution. At the very least, I’d say the ratio of understanding and planning (strategic) versus solving (tactical) is 70% to 30%, if not 80/20. But that’s not what people want out of a 70 minute presentation. They want the opposite – 20% strategic and 80% tactical advice.

How you develop your content governance strategies should be based upon the nuances of your site structure and SharePoint architecture, your established IT policies and practices (not to mention any defined industry or legal rules and regulations), the roles and responsibilities defined within your organization, your systems of measurement and reporting, and the level (or lack of) automation of your platform.

But people want specifics. They want to know my best practices – even though best practices for one company may not apply to all others. My solution to this presentation dilemma is to provide questions, which is what this PowerPoint does. And through these questions, I provide an implied set of best practices around some of the more tactical aspects of content governance: permissions management, content and storage management, activity metrics, and change management. It’s not intended to be all-inclusive, but unfortunately when you talk in tactical terms, that’s how people respond to it. They take notes, download slides, and want “the list” of actions that will solve all of their problems. But it doesn’t work that way. Unfortunately, it takes a bit more effort.

My very first SharePoint presentation was given back in 2006, and the subject was “retroactive application of governance principles.” Six years later, I’m talking about the same thing. Very few organizations talk about governance at the beginning of their SharePoint deployment, but find themselves looking for answers when they are waist-deep in SharePoint sprawl and chaos for having let the wild west run on their servers for a year or two.

Whether a new deployment or a couple years into production, the approach I recommend remains the same: go back and look at your business goals and be able to articulate what those goals are, and how each team/business unit participates in meeting those goals. Only when there is agreement and a shared understanding of those goals can you begin the process of refining and aligning your established or new governance principles to your SharePoint management activities.

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.