SharePoint Site Governance - dummies

By Rosemarie Withee, Ken Withee

Governance has gotten kind of a bad rap, in part because of its association with the banking scandals of past years. People hear the word and get all squirrely and anxious, especially when someone proposes governance that affects them. But a well-crafted SharePoint website governance plan isn’t about restricting people; in fact, it contains just enough detail to ensure a certain level of consistency and oversight. Website governance is about the people, policies, and processes that craft your site. Your governance helps you figure out how to apply all the best new SharePoint features.

Failure is not an option (neither is looking away and whistling)

One of Microsoft’s key SharePoint product drivers was the goal to put more control and configuration in the hands of the users; SharePoint was designed to be The Platform of the People.

And people, as you’ve probably noticed, tend to be unpredictable. So SharePoint + Human Nature = Chaos. Sooner or later, an uncontrolled proliferation of sites and subsites, ways of doing things, ways of tagging and applying metadata, and ways of managing documents will produce a very unwieldy SharePoint installation indeed. Trying to identify and implement governance at that point can be an exercise in frustration.

This is a long way of saying that you’ll have to address governance sooner or later. Take this advice: Make SharePoint governance a high priority and start now.

Getting executive buy-in and support

Successful governance plans usually have a high-visibility advocate to support and communicate them. So find an executive to buy in. You won’t have too hard a time making the case to leadership; they’ve already invested in a powerful SharePoint platform, and it’s probably supporting functions that are crucial to the success of your organization. Line up executive support and enlist that support to drive the formation of and participation in governance committee activities.

Building an effective governance group

The IT team commonly dominates governance committees; they have to manage server space, deal with security groups, and implement new functionality. These are ample motivation to formalize much of what they do with SharePoint. But a governance committee comprised entirely or even largely of IT resources won’t get you where you need to be.

In addition to your executive sponsor, your governance group should represent a diverse mix:

  • Include representatives from the business. The information workers who use SharePoint all the time often are in the best position to produce realistic governance policies and to identify governance gaps, too.
  • Include representatives from any compliance areas. They can advocate for governance that promotes adherence to regulations that affect your business.
  • Recruit folks from corporate communications and training. These people are well placed not only to address governance in areas such as branding but also can help craft a plan to publicize governance decisions and provide organizational change management to support those decisions.

Finding the right level

Don’t try to identify and address everything that someone might do with SharePoint; provide guardrails to steer your users in the appropriate things to do or to avoid. Those things vary by organization; there’s no magic list of what to address. (Larger organizations tend to need more governance than smaller organizations.)

Over time, your governance group will uncover areas that need governance, and this will be helped along if you already have a clear process in place to propose, evaluate, and implement governance when and where the need arises.

Yours, mine, ours: deciding who owns what

Kick-start a governance effort by thinking about who: Who can do what? Who owns what? For example, you might start with identifying who can provision top-level sites and who can provision subsites. Or who should determine where certain types of documents belong. Or who decides what merits a new content type (and who owns the changes to it).

If you have global navigation, identify who decides what goes there. And so on. The who will suggest the how, so you can consider that next.

One of our favorite governance exercises is to project the home page on the screen for your governance group. Then ask who has the authority to update the page. Because the home page usually links to so many other pages, it naturally leads the discussion into other areas of the portal that need ownership.

(Re)Visiting social networking policies

If you have a social media governance plan in place, it may have been developed to govern external social networking tools; if this is the case, you need to revisit it in the context of SharePoint.

When social media, such as instant messaging, started to become pervasive, a lot of companies responded by locking Internet access to those applications out of fear about what employees would say and how much time they’d waste using them. Likewise, Internet discussion boards and wikis were treated with suspicion, and all kinds of corporate rules and regulations rose around them, making a lot of corporate intranets more like prisons. Over time, some companies evolved governance around when and how employees used external social networking on company time or using the company name. The goal was to keep everyone focused on documents and data and to minimize interpersonal exchanges.

Eventually, forward-thinking organizations recognized that actively facilitating informal interactions between individuals could benefit the organization by making the exchange of information more efficient, uncovering hidden pools of expertise, and (oh, by the way) recognizing that people are social creatures who need a certain degree of human contact to feel happy at work.

SharePoint integrates components of the social media used in the real world into the workplace. And the ability for employees not only to connect with their peers but also use a corporate-sanctioned tool (SharePoint) to follow coworkers’ activities (via live feeds and Twitter-like microblogging status updates), exchange opinions with peers (via social tagging and ratings), and pool information (wikis) represents a significant change from external social media. So, if you have a specific governance policy around social media, revisit it in the context of internal communications. You’ll probably find that you need a whole new strategy.

Design and branding

Whether your SharePoint is an internal portal or a public-facing website, the interface should reflect your corporate image, present a certain level of design integrity, and provide users with a consistent navigation scheme that helps them find their way around.

Your governance plan should address look and feel and how things such as global navigation persist across your site.

Content management

Metadata, content types, and taxonomies (oh my!) can help reduce the plague of redundant-but-slightly-different information.

To leverage the content management of your SharePoint installation, encourage consistency around metadata and how things are tagged. Content types are a great way to ensure that a core set of tags are consistently applied to similar content, making the content easier to find, easier to reuse, and easier to filter. So identify key metadata that needs to be formalized via content types and applied across SharePoint sites, and then develop governance around them.

Reusing web parts

One great feature of SharePoint is the fact that someone can create a really useful Web Part and then export and import it for use somewhere else. Plenty of third-party Web Parts are available for download on the web. Unfortunately, some Web Parts contain malicious code that can pose security problems or just simply don’t work as advertised. Likewise, even some internally developed Web Parts can present problems if they allow users to configure them. When you’re ready to use a third-party Web Part, make sure you look at a reputable company with plenty of SharePoint expertise.

Web Parts need to be subjected to controls before they’re added to your SharePoint sites. Develop governance around how they’re tested and approved, what the change control process looks like, and how they’re released and made available.

Keeping things current: web operations management

Web Operations Management is the care and feeding of your SharePoint sites. You may find it’s easy to think about SharePoint sites as projects with defined beginnings, middles, and ends. But in reality, they’re more organic than that. Websites are like living entities, which grow and change over time. Like decorative hedges, they require pruning and maintenance or they get out of control pretty fast.

The more traffic your site sees, the more important it is to stay on top of that maintenance. Web Operations Managers wield the pruning shears that shape SharePoint to reflect the strategic vision and technical goals of the company while ensuring that things like verifying that links still work or identifying and deleting irrelevant or outdated content get done. You need to designate someone with a green thumb to prune and water your SharePoint site.