Let me introduce you to a SharePoint environment. In this environment any user can create sites and site collections, and they do so, in great numbers. There are thousands of sites in this environment, with no clear indication of ownership or intention for any site. As you jump from site to site, there is no clear sense of where you currently are in the jungle of site structures, and each site is designed with its own use of colors, images, fonts, resembling an abstract painting. Yes it is a scary picture I’m paining, and hopefully it doesn’t resemble your environment. However, what is the one biggest thing that this environment is lacking? If you haven’t guessed from the title of this article, it’s Governance.
As complex as a product SharePoint can be, it craves and desperately needs a plan in place to provide direction for simple concepts such as who can do what in the SharePoint environment. So what is a SharePoint Governance Plan? How long should it be? What kind of topics should it cover? Who should be the audience of this plan? Depending on who you ask, the answers will most likely vary. One thing can be for certain and that is a Governance Plan is not a “nice to have” it is a necessity, one that we make a part of every project.
Over the years as we have worked with organizations and projects of varying size and complexity, we have constantly adapted our Governance strategy by simply, seeing what works, and what doesn’t. There are certain defining elements of a Governance Plan that we have come across.
1. Keep it short and sweet
When is the last time you wanted to flip through a 100+ page manual? Odds are, never. Those responsible for the Governance Plan may strive for a detailed thorough document that covers head to toe, however in our experience very seldom is a document of this length actually read. Instead it sits at the corner of the desk collecting dust. To make sure this doesn’t happen we push for including only the essentials within a Governance plan, and being able to know when to say something belongs in an Operations Plan vs. a Governance Plan.
Creating a plan of smaller length may be easier said than done, but it is what ensures the adoption, adherence and maintainability of it.
2. A picture is worth a thousand words
Perhaps this point continues on from the earlier one. Rather than creating a Governance Plan that is wordy, with paragraph upon paragraph of information diluted within sentences. Sometimes it’s a lot easier to represent information through diagrams. Don’t be afraid to use diagrams to illustrate your point, several of our sections in a Governance plan are just that, diagrams, whether it be a swim lane or data flow diagram, anything that can get the point across visually can be a much better conveyor of a message.
We have to keep in mind, one of the greatest purposes of the Governance Plan is to act as a guide or reference for those that support your environment, so they need to quickly get at the information they need and using diagrams and/or bullet points is what will give them that information the quickest and easiest.
3. Know thy audience
Just recently, while creating a Governance Plan, during one of our many review meetings for Governance an important point was raised. Somebody pointed out the terminology that was being used in the Plan such as “Site Collections”, “Managed Metadata”, were not terms that typical end users would understand. This is absolutely correct, while we want to abstain from using technical jargon and acronyms, your typical Governance Plan may not be intended for end users. Certain sections may definitely be used in training for end users, but the rest of the content is most likely strategic.
Knowing this, we must clearly define who our audience is, most likely a mixture of Operations, Help Desk, IT Department, SharePoint Steering Committee etc… Knowing the audience will ensure we create content that is relevant and understood by the right parties.
4. Use it or lose it
We don’t want to create a Governance Plan just for the sake of having one. We want to promote this Plan, and we want to make sure that it is adhered to. One of the best ways of making sure people adhere to the Governance Plan is by taking elements of it, and introducing them within the end user and site owner training.
By doing this you are transforming the Governance from being merely a document into the culture of SharePoint usage. Site Owners should know what kind of content they should be posting to SharePoint, what kind of formatting they should be applying to the content and so on. This is how Governance integrates into your SharePoint implementation, the last but most important step of introducing Governance into your environment.
5. It’s alive!
Inherently, SharePoint is a very dynamic product, ever changing in your environment. Features are added and removed, sites are created it’s a growing and living thing. Likewise, your Governance Plan must follow suit. You can’t simply create a Governance Plan, let it loose and forget about it.
The Governance Plan must be reviewed, it must be audited and it must be kept alive. It is a living document, and therefore we promote having a plan on who will be responsible for making sure the Governance Plan is relevant and up to date. The only thing worse than a stagnant SharePoint site is a Governance Plan that is the same.
With many schools of thought on Governance within a SharePoint environment we have to accept that there is no cookie cutter approach. Every environment and situation is different therefore we have to approach each Governance Plan differently. That being said there are some basic principles that must be followed, and the first step is understanding that the Governance plan is integral to the adoption and maintenance of your SharePoint environment, it’s the oil that keeps the engine running.