SharePoint Governance: Beyond the Buzzword

In 2011, I was lucky enough to spend time on five continents with the largest SharePoint customers in the world.

As I documented my community outreach statistics as part of my year-end procedures, I came to realize that I had personally touched one in ten of the largest enterprises on the planet. In my meetings with these companies, SharePoint teams shared their problems, gave me insight into the solutions they had developed, and trusted me to provide guidance and to share the lessons learned from hundreds of other SharePoint implementations.

While the SharePoint journey is somewhat unique for any organization, and is heavily dependent upon the organization’s requirements, several themes were consistent. By far the most common theme is—shocker!—governance.

In Amsterdam, I debuted a new keynote speech titled, SharePoint Governance: Beyond the Buzzword. It’s a popular and highly-rated talk in which I frame the discussion of governance and provide some structure and sanity to the noise and the hype.

Various Layers of Governance

I set forth my perspectives on what the various layers of governance mean—from business governance to IT governance to service governance, and down to the technical layer—and provide useful tools to help organizations move forward thoughtfully and effectively on their SharePoint journeys. I’ll be presenting the keynote at several premier SharePoint events in early 2012, and I will work to make the talk available online to those who cannot attend one of those events.

But, today, I’d like to focus on one topic related to the “buzzword” governance: Is the word being used to describe both governance and management?

Governance is, without doubt, the buzzword of the day in the SharePoint space.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of noise around governance, and the word has become overloaded with perspectives and guidance that cover the gamut from strategic management to project management to design and architecture to service delivery and even to user adoption. Governance has become the catch all for anything that an organization believes it needs or is missing to make SharePoint successful.

In my opinion, SharePoint governance is not about documenting every setting, policy, and procedure in an attempt to define how SharePoint will look forever and ever.

Rather it is about establishing a process that enables the organization to move forward, with each step and each new solution adding to the organization’s understanding of its information and service management requirements. In my keynote, I share tools to help establish that process and forward momentum.

Where Governance Ends, Management Begins

Where governance ends, management begins. This is another place where—in the SharePoint space—the term "governance" has become overloaded.

In most IT (and other) contexts, service governance defines the people, processes, policies, and technologies that deliver a service such as SharePoint. Too often organizations stop when the governance document is complete.

They discover—all too painfully—that it’s not realistic to simply “expect” that governance policies will be followed consistently, if at all. Therefore, it’s critical to consider how to make the service manageable in a way that supports or, better yet, enforces governance policies and, if possible, automates the implementation of policies.

In order to create a service that supports enforcement, automation, and management of governance policies, you must have an architecture that supports such enforcement. And that is easier said than done.

As I’ve seen even in some of the biggest and smartest companies in the world, SharePoint’s complexity makes it difficult to understand the close relationship between governance, architecture, and manageability. Poor architectural choices make it impossible to manage—let alone to automate—the implementation of governance policies and procedures.

In my opinion, it is time for all of us—community, MVPs and experts and consultants, vendors, and Microsoft—to tease apart the concepts of SharePoint governance and SharePoint management.

Like other IT platforms and initiatives, management is about the day to day implementation and support of a service. Management should be guided by the policies and procedures established by the governance plan.

But governance itself is quite different than management, and by bundling the two together in our terminology we do ourselves a disservice.

Even in the keynote at the SharePoint Conference, it was proposed that SharePoint governance is a non-issue. I think what was really meant is that SharePoint (especially when extended by ISV tools) exposes numerous management controls that allow an organization to manage SharePoint according to just about any governance policies.

But SharePoint governance is clearly an issue—company after company make it clear to me that it is the cause of a lot of pain. The governance they refer to is the more standard definition of governance—they are having troubles wrapping their heads around the process of defining the roles, responsibilities, policies, and procedures for delivering business solutions on a rich platform like SharePoint.

And they struggle with moving effectively from requirements gathering through design, development, and deployment of solutions that are fully defined across information architecture, information management, and service management dimensions.

Those of you who read my column regularly will know I’m a stickler for terminology. I believe that we need to be speaking the same language before we can move forward effectively.

So: Governance and Management. Both are important. But they are different.

Does that seem like a fair statement to you? How can the distinction help you communicate about and move forward with SharePoint governance (and management) in your enterprise?

Discuss this Blog Entry 2

on Dec 7, 2011
I find it helpful to see Governance (be it the one buzzword, or the kelidescope of SharePoint governance, business governance, IT governance, service governance, and, as you say, management) in a similar way that I see SharePoint, with layers of complexity that each serve different roles. You have your site collections, sites, subsites, lists and libraries, all the way down to individual items and metadata fields on the items. IMO, SharePoint governance (and/or "governance") can and should be a layered approach, from the high-level 50000 foot view of the business objectives, all the way down to the low level day to day management and enforcement tools. Not every organization will need the same numbers of levels, or amount of detail; some will need them all mapped out before starting, and others will be better off building them as they gain experience with what SharePoint is and what it can do in relation to their environemnt and their requirements. Whether or not you choose to label those elements as governance (or "governance"), they all play a role in what SharePoint governance is at its heart: laying out what SharePoint is FOR in the organization, how to optimize it (minimax that most closely meets the needs at the least effort) to reach the goals of that purpose (or, more likely, those purposes), who is responsible for making sure it goes according to plan, and who is authorized to evaluate the plan and make adjustments when needed (and it will be needed).
on Dec 8, 2011
Hi Dan, Great article and to the point. Governance and Management are definitely different!! I'd like to add Governance rules on different levels and see them more as 'guidelines' as business likes to change. If properly published everybody should be able to understand them (KISS principle surely needed) 1. SharePoint Global - just very high level things, more related to administrators for setting up the environment --> web apps, site collections, content databases, ... 2. Site Collection level (for collaboration sites) - advice on security, structure, ... 3. Intranet - same as 2 but additionally publishing rules, ... Management is another thing and really difficult without a proper tool that can be used on the different levels by different people. There are some out there and I've made my choice :-) Best regards, Geert

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