Reinforcing Your SharePoint Governance Strategy

Reinforcing Your SharePoint Governance StrategyAfter joining Microsoft in 2006, I had a couple opportunities to speak at the major internal conference, TechReady, two years in a row. Little did I know that the topics on which I presented would still be primary themes over 10 years later: migration and governance. As some of you are aware, last year I ran a community survey around ‘Measuring Collaboration Success’ which examined the gaps in SharePoint perceived and actual (measurable) business benefits. After conversations with customers and partners discussing the state of SharePoint within their organizations, governance clearly remains a gap within most organizations.

Governance is not a “checklist” of activities as much as an ongoing strategy for staying on top of your SharePoint environment, assessing performance and the never-ending list of end user requests within regulatory and compliance boundaries, and balanced with a healthy dose of change management. No matter what methodology you follow, or how stringent your processes, transparency is key. People want reassurance that their planning is moving in the right direction. As I conducted last year’s surveys, the most common questions respondents asked about improving their governance activities were:

  • Where should I begin?
  • What are the best practices?
  • What does Microsoft recommend?
  • How do I manage change?
  • Who should be involved?

In my experience, there are many similarities between the need for governance planning in SharePoint and my background many years ago in building out project management offices (PMOs). One of the primary roles of a good PMO is to build an environment of trust and communication with your customer organizations to help with internal, platform and customer experience improvements. There are some people that your company will trust more than others, especially when something goes wrong, and these people are needed to quickly step in to assess things, formulate a plan and then tell you not to worry. These PMOs are trusted and your business has confidence in them.

With this in mind, your business also needs to build this level of trust and confidence into a SharePoint governance strategy. How? While there is no easy button, here are four principles that helped grow confidence in building PMOs and which can be applied to a governance strategy:

  1. Make the Process Visible
    When trying to build confidence within any organization, keeping processes open and visible to all levels is key to success. Using public whiteboards to outline a team’s process, priorities and status of requests can improve project management. Once confidence is gained through this public process, a transition can be made to online tools including SharePoint, where data can be found by simply logging into the PMO site. This helps continue to raise the visibility of a team, and the great work being accomplished.
    The same applies to a governance strategy. Make the work you do to organize and define policies and procedures a matter of public discourse. One of the more successful governance initiatives I led started with a town hall-type event, with Q&A from anyone interested and passionate enough to raise their hand. And our regular governance body meetings were open door, with end users and executives alike joining one or two meetings when something they had a vested interest in was being discussed.
  2. Provide Timely Updates
    Nothing is more frustrating than to never hear back from a project manager when you know the status has changed. If a project is urgent and work is at a standstill, sometimes updating a SharePoint task list at the end of the day is insufficient. You can never err on the side of too much communication. With governance planning, you must include a solid communication strategy and use common sense to increase or decrease the level of communication based on the immediacy of the workload in front of you and the maturity of your governance plan over time.
  3. Constantly Optimize
    Governance is never a static activity, so don’t roll out a plan, document it within a binder and then put that binder on a shelf to gather dust and be forgotten. Project activities, reporting and communication strategies constantly evolve because of changing business requirements and the evolving needs of your customers. Constantly look for ways to improve your governance strategy.
    I always considered it a huge win to refine a governance activity, thereby reducing the amount of time the organization had to spend thinking about governance. Of course, optimizing may also mean you uncover something you had not earlier considered, which could add time and effort. It’s an ebb and flow. But for the most part, if you plan properly up front, the process aspect of the work is sure to decrease.
  4. Ask For, and Take Action On, Feedback
    The underlying message within this list is to talk to your customers, whether they’re internal end users, or external paying customers. Make a point of regularly asking each person involved whether the governance body is missing anything. Some people have no problem speaking up in a crowd — the hard part of working with people is recognizing when people are not so forthcoming with feedback. Instead, look for different opportunities to reach out and connect so that you can get a more complete view of what people think.

These are fundamentals, not an all-inclusive list of best practices. And honestly, the answers to these common questions are never what people want to hear. Talking to people is hard work. They have opinions. They ask for things. They are constantly asking for updates. And they expect you to deliver.

Let’s face it — there is no shrink-wrapped set of answers for implementing governance. It’s hard work, and it takes time and constant tweaking. But there are definitely benefits to doing the hard work — and chief among them is having happy end users.

To answer the question of how to build confidence into a governance strategy, my advice is to “Start as soon as possible.” Develop best practices by learning from the success of others, but adapt their solutions to fit your own culture. For example, Microsoft provides plenty of content around optimal settings and system limitations, which is a good place to start, but configure your systems based on a solid understanding of your own business requirements. A quick search on ‘SharePoint’ ‘governance’ AND ‘strategy’ returns quite a few links and resources that may be able to help. You also have a growing library of resources through Microsoft FastTrack, while not focused specifically on governance, that may help you to better engage with your employees and begin to establish healthy patterns for communication, which is critical to successful governance.

Adapt these policies, working with SharePoint’s defined constraints (content limits, permissions settings, information rights management policies) with a consistent and transparent change management process, so that employees and customers understand why changes are being made, and where their requests fit into the priorities of the larger organization or project.

I’m also a HUGE advocate of allowing anyone who wants to be involved to participate in the initial governance discussions, in some way. There is generally a self-vetting process in a very short amount of time, and the right people for ongoing governance board participation will surface themselves.

When people are heard, it builds confidence in your strategy.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Apps & Services MVP, and the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Lehi, Utah, through which he provides fractional-CMO for partners in the Microsoft ecosystem.