What is the state of Information Governance in your organization?

The top issues surrounding enterprise collaboration tools and platforms (like SharePoint and Microsoft Teams) have nothing to do with features or the limitations of the technology, but have more to do with planning and execution. Of course, the same is true for most every other software solution. We focus so much on what the tools can and cannot do that we tend to make missteps on aligning them with our business priorities, our existing information governance guidelines, and our cultural norms.

Photo by @towfiqu999999 on UnsplashThe general consensus out there is that word “governance” is too broad and confusing. Some organizations may have very clearly defined guidelines and processes in place, driven by government and industry regulations and standards. Others may not be required to have well-defined standards, but on their own these companies have determined that their systems and tools are more manageable and scalable with a clearly defined governance strategy in place. At the end of the day, there is no set of “best practices” for governance that can be applied across every organization. However, there is a lot you can learn from others.

Some organizations may have a very strong technology assurance component within their governance strategy due to an extended planning and approval process around technology, requiring a long roadmap for all platform decisions. Other organizations may focus more heavily on business and technology alignment, which could see rapid adoption of new tools and platforms that may provide competitive advantage. The point here is that different organizations have different strengths and levels of operational maturity.

Where to Begin

People are always asking “Where should I start with my governance planning?” My answer is never as satisfying as they would hope: it depends.

There is no quick and easy route. Some organizations are good at change management, others have a solid foothold in their information architecture and managing data across teams. You need to take the good things you’ve already done, and strengthen areas where you are weak. There are a number of areas that you should consider as you think about scaling your enterprise collaboration that are independent of your governance methodology, or even the tools you use — and will help to begin strengthening your weak spots. At the end of the day, you should focus first on the needs of your business and THEN select the processes and tools that will enable you to meet those business goals.

Here are five focus areas will help you begin to get your own governance practices under control, allowing you to get the most value out of your technology and people investments. These are not hard and fast rules, but areas you should consider as you build out your governance strategy to match your own unique corporate footprint — so apply as needed:

Standardize  your policies and procedures.

Are your policies and procedures consistent across your organization, or are exceptions the rule? Most organizations constantly reorganize as the business grows, and as you try to be nimble and adaptive in response to customer needs. Don’t let your governing policies be the reason you cannot change to meet the needs of the business — or “force” people to go around the rules (Shadow IT) in order to get their work done. A business unit may have different information rights management (IRM) rules than the rest of the company, but the policies that govern how those rules are managed should be consistent across the organization.

Create clear roles and responsibilities.

Once you’ve identified the rules, you then need to define the management and employee roles within each rule. Be clear on what you expect from each role, so that people can be accountable for those roles. This is also central to good permissions management, by the way. How can you measure the performance of a system — or the performance of a person — without first clearly defining the measurements of success?

Share responsibilities, distribute management.

You should explore the functions and capabilities that make sense to be centralized, and those which may need to be managed at the site collection, site, team, and channel levels. Both SharePoint and Microsoft Teams work best when management of their many functions are distributed to the people who know how the business should be run…assuming you have adequate (and standardized) policies and procedures, and clear roles and responsibilities.

Create a communication strategy.

Creating a governance site can be just as useful as handing out 3-ring binders: the content becomes quickly outdated, and nobody uses it. You need it to be a living, breathing site or document, with a strategy to constantly share what is new and what has changed so that people keep information governance top of mind. Having a cadence around your communication is part of a healthy governance strategy. It can help get people involved, keep them up to date, and remind them when and where they can provide feedback.

Focus on Execution, and Iterate.

Every healthy system, once in place, includes ongoing measurement, automation, and reporting. Not every aspect of your governance plan will be effective — so build into your strategy the time to regularly review, assess, and make changes. SharePoint and Microsoft Teams are not a static platforms — there is an almost-constant flow of new features and incremental improvements, so your governance strategy should not be static, either.

It’s easy to talk about governance in theory, but harder to put into practice. In previous consulting roles, my approach to enterprise-wide system deployments (such as CRM, ERP, portfolio management, software configuration management systems) was always from a business analyst perspective, spending the bulk of my time trying to understand, clarify, and then communicate the business goals first, and THEN to figure out how to apply technology. I found the focus areas above to be consistent across most projects, and hopefully will help you to further expand on your own governance model.

Christian Buckley

Christian is the Brand Alliance Director for AvePoint Inc., and a Microsoft Regional Director and M365 Apps & Services MVP based in Silicon Slopes (Lehi), Utah. He hosts the AvePoint Office 365 Hours (#O365hours) and #P2Pnow series, the monthly #CollabTalk TweetJam, the weekly #CollabTalk Podcast, and the Microsoft 365 Ask-Me-Anything (#M365AMA) series.