Controlling Sprawl Means Process+Culture


One of the reasons SharePoint grew so quickly over the past decade was due to the strict controls placed on many corporate portals, or from a general lack of collaboration support from IT teams. Installing a free version of SharePoint was pretty straight-forward and simple, and would quickly catch on and spread across a team, between teams, and then throughout the corporate landscape. The whole idea of collaboration sprawl reminds me of the 35 years I lived in Northern California, watching home development spread in every direction, in most cases without a master plan – causing traffic gridlock and other infrastructure issues, which, in large part, helped create the housing collapse years later.

Within our organizations, we forced IT to take a look at “this SharePoint thing” and to provide us with more flexible options for collaboration, many times at the expense of structured collaboration and sound governance principles – which may have come back to bite us later. But in the heat of the moment, when we were all desperate to just get our work done, we fought against these outdated concepts, thinking to ourselves, "We’re growing fast, so we need to be flexible and dynamic. We don’t need process or bureaucracy."

But why is it that "fast and flexible" is viewed as mutually exclusive of "stable and scalable" when it comes to systems and repeatable processes?

Consider this example: An externally-facing corporate portal is open to customers, maintained by IT, with content owned by Marketing. Nothing inherently wrong with this scenario. But when several major customers contact a VP late Sunday night because a page link is broken or content is wrong, who gets the call? Not the guys in Marketing. No, its the folks in IT Operations. Who is ultimately responsible for content and the portal? Marketing wants the ability to build sites and edit on the fly, and IT wants to ensure environments and features work before pushing them out in front of the customer.

End users and managers want the flexibility and autonomy to serve their customers without having to jump through hoops. Sometimes all it takes is a one day delay to lose a customer, so companies need to be responsive to win business, and to support their customers. The vast majority of IT organizations want nothing more than to deliver that flexibility and control to responsible end users – but they are also tasked with supporting the underlying infrastructure, whether they maintain that infrastructure on premises or manage one or more hosted services on their end user’s behalf.

Managing collaboration sprawl is as much about changing your company culture as it is about refining your processes. Mention the word “governance,” and people automatically assume that power is somehow being taken away from them. But there is shared ownership in a healthy governance strategy – and understanding that shared ownership is more of a cultural issue than a matter of documenting policies and procedures. The problem here is not control of the content management system or the overall quality assurance process, but healthy communication between IT and end users, and a shared understanding of what is to be accomplished – both from an end user perspective (fast provisioning, autonomy, service-level agreements with IT) and an IT perspective (defined policies and procedures, agreed upon response times, change management model).

Good collaboration is definitely a cultural skill. The organizations who are best at collaboration are often those with mature cultures that have clearly defined change management models that facilitate understanding and execution. The first step to every solution is always to sit down and discuss the requirements and come to a shared understanding — before any solution is proposed. After all, until you have a clear picture of the problem space, how can you be sure you’re solving the right problem?

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and M365 Apps & Services MVP, and an award-winning product marketer and technology evangelist, based in Silicon Slopes (Lehi), Utah. He is the Director of North American Partner Management for leading ISV Rencore (, leads content strategy for TekkiGurus, and is an advisor for both revealit.TV and WellnessWits. He hosts the monthly #CollabTalk TweetJam, the weekly #CollabTalk Podcast, and the Microsoft 365 Ask-Me-Anything (#M365AMA) series.