When I joined the Microsoft Managed Services (MMS) team back in 2006 to help build out the predecessor to SharePoint Online (part of the Office 365 platform), I became part of a large team that owned and managed many of the internal deployments of SharePoint at Microsoft, but was a step away from the "front lines" of managing the day-to-day platform. My second team at Microsoft was a project management and engineering team responsible for a number of systems and analytics solutions within the online services space, and the role included helping other internal groups build out and manage their own SharePoint environments. Much of the work performed for these internal and external customers played a large role in my thinking around the SharePoint governance space, and when customers and community members have questions, I find myself going back into these experiences as great examples of what to do, and what not to do with SharePoint.
Primarily, customers want to know the "best practices" for SharePoint governance, which should always be approached carefully. What is a best practice to me may not be a best practice to you. Most people are looking for a checklist, a single document that spells out the exact steps to take and to help them identify what they might be missing. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite work like that. There are numerous sites and resources available that can provide case studies and theory—the difficult part is putting that theory into practice within your own organization. I've often stated that I don't care what methodology you use when it comes to project management—just use one. The same can be said for governance methodologies. While I will say that every successful governance effort begins with a strong change management system in place, beyond that it really does depend on your goals, your business requirements, the culture and capability of your organization, and your various legal and regulatory constraints.
Most consulting companies have built their practices around repeatable deployment models and methodologies that are, for many, key intellectual property for their organization. Of course, Microsoft also provides content and planning tools for SharePoint that are readily available on TechNet, providing a comprehensive set of guidelines and checklists to help you develop your governance strategy. If you are struggling to build out your SharePoint governance strategy, and don't know where to begin to identify, much less execute, business critical governance controls such as security policies, information rights management, and storage optimization—TechNet and the new Office 365 Customer Success Center at http://success.office.com are a great place to start.
If your needs are simply beyond your skillset or time constraints, getting some outside help might be the best bet for your organization. Just understand that governance is not as simple as going through a checklist. The difference between having the checklist in hand and executing against a successful governance strategy come down to three things:
- Having the right people in place to accomplish your goals
- Following a defined methodology with change management at its core
- Having a firm understanding of your business requirements and constraints
While this may seem all warm and fuzzy and not very specific, the reality is that governance falls squarely into the infamous SharePoint answer to all-things-difficult: it depends. Having the right people in place, with roles and responsibilities clearly defined, is essential, both in terms of fleshing out your requirements, and in properly managing the platform going forward. You'll never get it all right up front, but you need to have enough resources to get things done, and you need to have a change process in place to regularly review and make adjustments. Oh yeah, and you need to listen to people. People are what drive your company culture, and people will determine whether or not your new or migrated or revamped SharePoint platform will be successful.
Methodology, as I mentioned earlier, is the key to keeping things progressing forward, to keeping things organized, to helping people understand the plan ahead, the progress being made, and what has been accomplished. Your methodology is your checklist of questions to ask to ensure your strategy is robust, that you've not left any critical aspects out. It is also what provides a layer of transparency across all that you do so that your front line information workers at the bottom of the totem pole, along with your executive management team at the top, will have visibility into what is happening, and, hopefully, a voice in the process.
After all that, understanding is really the most important aspect of your governance strategy. Specifically, a shared understanding between business owners, technical implementers (in-house or consultants), and end users of what is to be achieved with SharePoint (you know….to meet those business needs, which is why you're deploying SharePoint in the first place). If you don't have a shared understanding and can tie the decisions you make back to those requirements—or the system, legal, and regulatory constraints that dictate how you build and manage your platform, business owners will view it all as one giant IT boondoggle.
The gap between theory and application is always the hardest, because governance is as much about people and culture as it is about technology. But the organizations that recognize this, approach it as such, and do their best to develop a shared understanding are the ones who, ultimately, are successful.
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