The SharePoint Governance Manifesto

imageBack at the beginning of the year I wrote an introduction to Ant Clay’s book The SharePoint Governance Manifesto, and based on a number of discussions over the past week, have found myself once again pointing back to the book – which is very helpful in explaining why governance is not a technology issue, but a culture and communication issue. Ant (@soulsailor) is founder and CEO of Soulsailor Consulting Ltd, is an Innovation Games® Qualified Instructor, and a trained facilitator. He’s part of a small but influential group within the SharePoint expert community with strong backgrounds in business analysis, which, as those of you who read my blog on a regular basis know, is a common soapbox topic of mine: that every SharePoint deployment or project begins as a business analysis effort. If you start your initiative by focusing on the technology, you’ve already failed, period. You first need to understand the business goals and needs, as well as the constraints (which governance planning should help you decipher) and then think about how the technology maps to those requirements. SharePoint is there to solve business problems, not to serve as a technological divining rod as to what business issues you should direct your attention.

What’s great about this book is that its colloquial tone is both engaging and informative, walking the reader through 7 focus areas needed for a holistic approach to SharePoint Governance: IT Assurance, Business Alignment, Information Governance, Kaizen (Continuous Improvement), Social Business, Project Governance, and Change Management and Adoption. It provides some great stories and examples, making it easy to apply the ideas within your own organization.

I wanted to share my foreword, which provides a good definition of what governance is, and why its not as simple to resolve as purchasing a tool and hiring a consultant to map out your requirements. Hopefully it’ll provide some useful insight as you begin your own governance journey:

Governance planning is a disruptive activity, primarily because not many people know what it is, or how to even begin addressing it in a meaningful way. Add a collaboration platform like SharePoint to the mix, and you have mass confusion. Most people get hung up on the definition. So, what is governance, really?

Governance does not equal administration. Governance is the plan, while administration is the action.

Most SharePoint "experts" abhor the term "best practices" because, practically speaking, what is a best practice for one organization may not be the best practice for others. What makes governance such a difficult topic to define and discuss in general terms is that it may mean different things to different organizations. Most consultants will bring to the table a perspective on governance that closely aligns with their backgrounds: someone with expertise in infrastructure planning and architecture will likely approach governance from an IT assurance perspective. Someone with a background in taxonomy development and business analysis will likely approach it from an information governance standpoint. And there’s nothing wrong with these approaches — if they fit the needs of the business. The problem is that few consultants, and the organizations they serve, approach governance holistically.

In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey identified a principle that has become one of the most oft-repeated phrases in management training: "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." As Covey points out, it is human nature to listen to people and interpret requirements autobiographically. We judge the things we hear and then quickly agree or disagree, we ask questions from our own frame of reference, we jump to solutions, and we assume the motives of other based on our own experiences.

Now apply these same biases to SharePoint governance planning, and you might have some insight into where your own planning efforts may have gone astray. Organizations need to slow down and take the time to talk to end users, managers, and administrators about how SharePoint is being used today (or, if it’s a new SharePoint deployment, how current business workloads are being achieved) so that everyone has a shared understanding of what the current system looks like, and ONLY THEN begin the conversation about what the future system should look like. The future system that meets all of your information rights management policies, your regulatory and security requirements, your social connectivity goals, and your content lifecycle strategies.

The benefit of having a clear picture of the current system and an outline of the future system is that you’ll have a baseline for conversations around how best to get from here to there.

And that’s where governance comes in. Governance is about helping you move from the current view into the future view. It is the plan, the policies and guidelines, to help you cross that void, to fill that gap.

What I love about the book that Ant has compiled here is that it aligns perfectly with this philosophy. His approach, developed with Andrew Woodward at 21apps, and industry experts such as Paul Culmsee and others, begins with the idea that you cannot move forward successfully without having a "shared vision" for what your SharePoint platform wants to be when it grows up. All of the other governance "best practices" stem from this one point, whether it be the creation of a governance Center of Excellence, implementation of detailed SharePoint change management protocols, or the inclusion of a detailed end user training plan, including mentoring program (all of which I highly recommend). All good things, but all reliant on that shared vision — at least if you want them to meaningful and long-lasting.

This book should help you to think more about your own approach to solving the SharePoint governance puzzle, and to figure out what will work best for your own organization. Take what makes sense, and is applicable, and make it your own. Ask questions. Reach out to Ant and others within the community for answers. You have a great support system already in place, no matter where you are in the world. Good luck!

If you’re interested in a preview of the book, you can find the preamble and a couple chapters here.

I know that there are a few folks out there who, based on the first paragraph above, are asking themselves “Who is this cabal of business analysis-focused experts within the SharePoint community?” Well, I put myself in that category, although my focus is across a number of areas. Also on this list, in my mind, are folks like Ruven Gotz (@ruveng), Susan Hanley (@susanhanley), Michal Pisarek (@michalpisarek), Jennifer Mason (@jennifermason), and of course Paul Culmsee (@paulculmsee) and Andrew Woodward (@andrewwoody< /a>) as mentioned in my foreword above. All brilliant folks who write great business and technical content. You’ll definitely want to follow them on Twitter and sign up for their respective blog newsfeeds.

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.