SharePoint is more enmeshed in our business critical processes than ever before. This is a good thing – great even. We have worked hard to empower our business users and customers to take advantage of the tools that the platform has to offer. Now we are dealing with a call for governance that often falls solely on the shoulders of information technology teams without a clear understanding of the requirements for bandwidth or individual capabilities. In order to ensure we are aware of all the ways our platform is being used and who is using it, the time has come to share the administrative burden of SharePoint with our business colleagues.
How do I know where to start?
Finding the right business-side partners is an art, not a science. There is no team that exists in every organization who is the go-to partner. Selection of the ideal partner for collaborative governance should be based on your organization’s structure, culture and plans for the future of the platform.
Sometimes it is quite clear who the front-runners for partnership might be. For instance, you may have launched SharePoint for the sole purpose of fulfilling a request from your business; obviously, the team who created the demand for the platform would be the most likely place to start looking for resources who would be able to understand the platform and help lead the charge. Most often, great candidates for co-ownership are popping up organically through daily use of the tool and inventive application of front-end functionality. Your power users are also a great place to start your search for a front-runner.
If you do not have the benefit of a clear front-runner, it is common to see active use of SharePoint in HR, Procurement, Communications, Finance and even Legal teams. Take some time to dip into your data and see where the most activity is occurring then reach out those particular users to find out what they are doing in the tool, how much they know about SharePoint in general and gauge how much potential there is for expanding their role. Even if you only use SharePoint for storing documents, you most likely have a department or two that are utilizing those capabilities more than others are. Focus on these to find your shining stars.
Sometimes it is the case where you are from the business side and you would like to extend the idea of partnership to information technology teams. In this scenario, it is a little bit easier to build the case for management support but has the potential to turn in to a bit of “IT versus Business” tug-of-war. If you are approaching your information technology team with the idea of collaborative governance, be sure to frame your proposal in a very positive light and recognize that this way of operating may be new and a bit scary for siloed SharePoint platform teams.
Defining how to work together for best results
Once you have identified your potential partner in governance, you will want to work to define what that relationship will look like ahead of soliciting management for buy-in. Depending on the makeup of your team, you may mix things up and switch things around according to the strengths of your resources. However, it is quite common to see a divide in roles and responsibilities in alignment with the chart below.
Align your team with the fact that people in technical roles tend to be more logical and focused on details whereas those who are in business roles tend to be more communicative and focused on the big picture. Instead of fighting against natural tendencies for certain activities, you should assign responsibilities in alignment with specific strengths in order to promote a true team approach. Along the same lines of the chart above, responsibilities for the high-tech compliance items will most likely remain with your information technology teams while utilizing the business’s ability to communicate and plan as their guiding strength in advocating for the platform with users.
Typing up a quick chart with areas of responsibilities is the easy part. The fun is really in how you work through the breakdown of responsibilities. The process of creating a collaborative governance team is an exercise in patience and compromise. One of the best ways to get things rolling is to call a brainstorming session. Pull your key team players into a room and talk candidly about what people would like to do and what they may be challenged by. In your first brainstorming session, you do not even need to step into the realm of who should or should not complete tasks; keep it simple and focus on the individual strengths and preferences.
While it is possible to complete the responsibility mapping in one session, it is more than likely you will require at least a couple sessions to get the balance fine-tuned. If any of your sessions get a little too passionate, break and come back together when everyone has been able to take a step back and regain their objectivity. If there are any areas that result in a true conflict, perhaps the solution would be to share the burden. When I went through this exercise with Sony Electronics, the end result had several areas where ownership was shared due to the amount of contention.
Most important to a successful outcome is to make sure your teammates are comfortable in the areas they have been assigned. Most often your team will be small and carrying a lot of responsibility for a truly business critical system. Everyone will have to take their areas and run with them in order to keep things manageable, so the structure needs to be complimentary. In addition, make a point to check in and revisit your assignments on a regular basis.
Painting a clear picture to gain management support
The emphasis on legwork to define responsibilities is because it is imperative to clearly illustrate the split in responsibilities for management. You must make it easy for them to understand where the lines of accountability lie and be able to easily identify the true team effort. Once you have your team structured with assignments in place, it is time to set the scene for why this collaborative approach is beneficial to the teams involved and the organization as a whole.
Structure a pitch leading with some background on the platform and what led to the need for both business and information technology ownership. Call out those issues that everyone is aware of with the platform and position this collaborative approach as the solution. Has your platform seen an unchecked increase in content? Are information technology resources focuses shifting toward larger projects and causing dissatisfaction in the user base? Have you wanted to grow capability but come against resource constraints? Are users not making the best out of the platform? All of these issues can be solved by implementing a collaborative governance strategy.
When calling out specific issues, use data or specific examples to set some context. Depending on the structure of your organization and who your audience will be for the initial pitch, you may also want to include some historical information on the use of SharePoint within your organization. Sometimes management benefits from being reminded about just how much SharePoint is being used and how much of the business would be impacted by any significant issues.
Close your pitch with your go-forward recommendation and next steps. This is where you will clearly illustrate the split in responsibilities indicating clear co-ownership of the platform. Keep it short but sweet and call out the benefits of a team approach. Add in your fancy chart showing the clear team effort and frame it with some powerful statements about what this will enable you to deliver.
Some real-world examples:
“The ownership of SharePoint is a team sport. We recommend implementation of a cross-functional team to govern the platform with strategy, governance and adoption driven by knowledgeable business resources.”
“Our recommended approach will enable the organization to focus on achieving business goals by helping to create solutions that leverage SharePoint while building employee knowledge and experience by providing them with the support of a specialized team accompanied by a strong partnership.”
Once you have made your case for the formation of your cross-functional team, simply ask for support. State next steps along the line of gaining executive support, formalizing roles and responsibilities and obtaining blessing on implementing the new framework.
Sharing the good news with your users
Believe it or not, the key to success of your new strategy is not management support, it is your users. Spend some time to outline how you will work together to benefit your users. For the teams at Sony Electronics, it was a great help to form a “Center of Excellence” to serve as the touchpoint for users. Regardless of nomenclature, presenting a united front to your end users and allowing them simplified access to communication and support tools will directly affect the success of your new strategy. Put your communications-focused team members to work on setting up those resources and outlining ways to boost user adoption. Connecting your user base with resources who have skills specialized in communication and just happen to be on “their” side will instantly alleviate a lot of the pains you may have been experiencing with user satisfaction.
Collaborating at the administrative level lets your users know you are focused on helping them work smarter and faster, you are willing to compromise, you are willing to cross those unspoken lines between information technology and business and you are on their side. Be sure that you plan a communication activity around this specific partnership so your users will understand that things are changing for the better. Give them a voice and make good use of what you hear when they speak up.