The Gap Between Governance Theory and Application

Having officially hung up my consulting hat back in March 2006 when I joined the Microsoft Managed Services team to help build out the predecessor to SharePoint Online, I became part of a large team that owned and managed most of the internal deployments of SharePoint at Microsoft, but was a step away from the "front lines" of managing the day to day platform. My second team was responsible for a site collection and helped other internal groups build out and manage the platform, but when I left the company in 2009, my direct line to the realities of managing SharePoint has been through customer interactions. On my travels this month, I’ve had a few customer meetings as I’ve toured the Middle East and Europe, and thought I’d point out some common threads between these customers.

Primarily, customers want to know the "best practices" for SharePoint governance. Specifically, most are looking for a checklist that they can go do, identify what they are doing and what they are missing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work like that. There are numerous sites and resources available that can provide case studies and theory — the difficult part is putting that theory into practice within your own organization. I’ve often stated that I don’t care what methodology you use when it comes to project management — just use one. The same can be said for governance methodologies.

Most consulting companies have built their practices around structures and methodologies for SharePoint that are otherwise freely available on TechNet, providing a comprehensive set of guidelines and checklists to help you develop your strategy. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not undervaluing what these companies have done, because their ability to execute makes all the difference. If you are struggling to build out your SharePoint governance strategy, and don’t know where to begin to identify, much less execute, business critical governance controls such as security policies, information rights management, and storage optimization — getting some outside help might be the best bet for your organization.

I guess my point is that the difference between having the checklist in hand and executing against a successful governance strategy are three things: people, methodology, and understanding.

Now, that all seems rather fuzzy and unspecific and generic, right? But governance falls squarely into the infamous SharePoint answer to all-things-difficult: it depends. Having the right people in place, with roles and responsibilities clearly defined, is essential, both in terms of fleshing out your requirements, and in properly managing the platform going forward. You’ll never get it all right up front, but you need to have enough resources to get things done, and you need to have a change process in place to regularly review and make adjustments. Oh yeah, and you need to listen to people. People are what drive your company culture, and people will determine whether or not your new or migrated or revamped SharePoint platform will be successful.

Methodology, as I mentioned earlier, is the key to keeping things progressing forward, to keeping things organized, to helping people understand the plan ahead, the progress being made, and what has been accomplished. Your methodology is your checklist of questions to ask to ensure your strategy is robust, that you’ve not left any critical aspects out.

After all that, understanding is really the most important aspect of your governance strategy. Specifically, a shared understanding between business owners, technical implementers (in-house or consultants), and end users of what is to be achieved with SharePoint (you know….to meet those business needs, which is why you’re deploying SharePoint in the first place). If you don’t have a shared understanding, business owners will view it all as an IT boondoggle, or else IT will view it as a pointless executive mandate.

The gap between theory and application is always the hardest, because its about people and culture. But the organizations that recognize this, approach it as such, and do their best to develop a shared understanding are the ones who, ultimately, are successful.

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.