5 Lessons I’ve Learned About How to Create Memorable and Useful SharePoint Governance Plans

Creating memorable SharePoint governance plans

I feel like I've worked on a gazillion SharePoint governance plans - or at least half that many - and each time, I think the latest one is the best one. I've definitely learned that the 80-page governance plan document is just that - a document. It doesn't actually help govern a SharePoint deployment, much less provide any type of guidance to SharePoint users. Here are 5 of the lessons I've learned about creating useful and memorable governance plans.

Lesson 1: No one cares about governance ... until you make it all about them!

Well, clearly some people care about governance - but not your Site Owners, even if you give them all the great reasons about why "we" need a governance plan. (For some of the classic reasons, check out page 6 in the presentation about SharePoint Governance I gave at the Best Practices conference earlier this year.) I used to think that these reasons were enough to convince anyone that having a governance plan is important enough to care about. Avoiding team site sprawl, ensuring that content is managed, establishing clear decision-making authority, and aligning the solution strategy with business objectives are all important reasons why organizations need to have a SharePoint governance plan - but these excellent reasons aren't why individuals care about governance, especially your site owners.

Individual site owners care about getting their jobs done. Period. If you want a site owner to care about governance and why it is in their best interest to follow the governance plan - try explaining it this way:

  • If you are the owner of one of a team site, you have permissions to take the basic team site structure (the "template") and make changes to both the way that the content is organized and the specific content containers that are used on the site (the "web parts"). The governance plan helps you make good choices to ensure that your site users have a good experience and your team site achieves your business objectives. Following the governance plan saves you time and gives you a better outcome.

I always say that we're all listening to the same radio station - WIIFM - What's In It For Me? If you want people to care about governance, make sure they understand what's in it for them, not what's in it for the organization as a whole.

My friend and colleague Scott Jamison likes to use an analogy to describe why governance plans are important. Microsoft SharePoint 2010 provides the infrastructure for the intranet/team collaboration environment, much like the roads and highway system provide the infrastructure for land travel. The governance plan describes the "rules of the road," some of which are required - like stopping at a red light. In the context of the governance plan, the required rules are policies and if we didn't have them, people could get hurt because no one would stop at a red light. Other "rules" are more good practices, like a roadmap that tells you the best way to get from Point A to Point B or how to drive a car. These "guidelines" are strong recommendations that you should follow where it makes sense for your business problem because in general, they will save you time and help create a better user experience and business outcome - and get you where you need to go faster and in one piece and will protect the investment you made in your fancy BMW.

Lesson 2: Less is more

It doesn't matter how great your governance plan is if no one reads it. Governance plans need to be both targeted and "consumable." If I don't have permission to configure a site, I don't really need to sift through site design policies and guidelines. I no longer create huge governance plan documents. They are just too hard for anyone to consume. I now create short, targeted governance plan "sections," each one covers a specific activity (like content authoring or site design) and is targeted to the user who will execute that activity (like contributing content or configuring sites). The goal for a section is to be no more than 10 pages.

To make complicated topics easier to understand and digest, I create supplemental "quick tips" - short, no more than 2 page guides that provide "just the key facts." For example, I think it's useful to create a short document to explain metadata and how it's being used. I also typically create a quick guide for planning site security that is targeted to site owners. Unfortunately, this one typically takes more than 2 pages because it's not an easy topic to explain or understand. The idea is that the governance plan describes what to do regarding site security, including things like which AD Groups should be used to provide access to sites. The "quick tips" supplement describes a process to think through what security you need for your site and how best to set up security groups. (There is a version of these tips in Chapter 8 of Essential SharePoint 2010.)

Lesson 3: Create a roadmap

Since my governance plans are now multiple documents (and sometimes, not even documents - for example, best practices for site design or content authoring can also be very effective if they are delivered in topic-focused SharePoint lists), I always create a roadmap visual that shows how the sections and the supplements work together. For a current engagement, I'm also working on a reading roadmap - essentially a decision tree that directs users to both governance documents and training resources based what they want to do with their new site because this organization does not want to force people to take training or read the governance plan documents before they get a site - it's just not in their culture. In an ideal world, everyone takes training before they get a site and they read and understand all the governance documents before they get any kind of design privileges. But in this organization, we are creating a framework that encourages good governance without forcing it. If we do a good job with lesson 1 and lesson 4 below, the risk of a negative outcome is significantly minimized so we are really focused on the "why should I care about governance" messaging and developing great templates.

Lesson 4: Build best practices in to your site templates

You are going to have a much easier time getting site owners and content contributors to follow your governance plan best practices and policies if you build them in to your site templates. For example, if you want users to follow a best practice to put frequently changing content where users are most likely to see it, put a News/Announcements web part in the upper left zone of your site template. If you want users to use consistent metadata attributes in their document libraries, modify the out of the box Documents library so that it includes your custom Content Types or Site Columns.

Lesson 5: A governance plan doesn't replace the need to provide training and training should include the governance plan

I'm working with a totally awesome training team at the same organization I mentioned above. As they create and deploy their SharePoint 2010 training, they are taking the governance plan best practices that I've been working on, which describe what you "should" do, and incorporating them into training about what you "can" do in SharePoint. In addition, they have created a really nice SharePoint site to supplement available training courses. The site lists each training concept (e.g. "create a list") and, where available, links to a video and/or article that describes how to do the action. In the next release of the training site, each training topic will also have a reference to the governance best practice or policy for that topic. In other words, governance policies and best practices will be delivered in context - right when a user is learning for the first time or getting a refresher on how to do something in SharePoint. So, in addition to "just in time" training, they will also have "just in time" governance.

For more of the lessons I've learned about SharePoint governance and specific examples that you can re-use, please come to my presentation on this topic at the Microsoft SharePoint Conference in Anaheim, CA. I'm doing two presentations at the conference. One is on governance and the other is on metrics, called Measuring the Value of Your SharePoint 2010 Investments.  I blogged a little about this topic last month but I've got a lot more to share at the conference so please come and join me for both sessions.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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