I’ve been talking governance for a long time. In late 2006, my friend and colleague Joel Oleson—then on the SharePoint team at Microsoft—hired me to write a series of white papers about governance for Windows SharePoint Services 3.0. And I’ve been working with enterprises large and small to help them align business, IT objectives, and SharePoint capabilities ever since.
In every engagement, I drive home the message that SharePoint governance can not be defined in a vacuum—that you must develop governance in the context of the specific objectives you want to address with SharePoint, the solutions you want to deliver, and the classes of information associated with those solutions.
In short, I’ve emphasized over and over that there is no such thing as a ”governance template,” or a “best practice.” I invoked the standard consultant’s answer to any question: “It depends.”
Is it Time to Approach Governance Differently?
In recent engagements, however, I’ve begun to feel that perhaps it’s time that I change my tune. So this week, I ask you—my readers—to help me decide: is it time to admit defeat, and to define governance best practices after all?
It’s my view that governance is a definition of policies, procedures, roles and responsibilities that guide and direct business and IT to cooperate to achieve business goals. Therefore, governance in your organization is going to be very specific to your goals, and to the information management and service management policies associated with the solutions you are delivering. I’ve developed a unique and (I am told) effective set of tools to help businesses do governance right, and to get where they need to go.
The problem is, few organizations actually do it. I’ve grown downright depressed from hearing attendees at my workshops and governance round tables tell me, in short, that their business and IT audiences simply cannot or will not invest the time and energy to establish governance. I almost cried this week when one of my attendees told me something I’ve heard too many times: “Our CIO wants us to deploy SharePoint. He has no idea what he wants, but he wants it. And we have to have a governance plan in place before we begin.”
So I’m ready to admit defeat, and to succumb to the reality that many organizations simply can’t or won’t do it right. For a variety of reasons, they will either roll out SharePoint workloads with little or no thought to governance, or they will never begin to deliver business value with SharePoint because they’re being tasked with defining governance before they start.
What, then, can I do—and can we do together—to address this reality? I am really asking for your input here.
My first thought is this: to break with the “it depends” tradition and to define “shrink wrapped” SharePoint governance for specific workloads. Take team sites—typical SharePoint collaborative workloads—for example. While every business may be slightly different in the nuances of their requirements for collaboration—which would lead them to different governance plans—my guess is that at least 80% of what businesses do within the collaborative workload is identical. Why not make broad assumptions about what that 80% solution looks like, and define governance best practices around it?
Sure, the result may not be perfect, but it’s a start—and it seems to me “a start” is what many organizations are screaming for. And, if you stop to think about what Office 365 is, that’s what Microsoft is doing. They’re providing a collaboration service that in many regards is a subset of what you could do on premise. You have a restriction to the number of site collections you can deploy within a tenancy, and a reduced number of controls for information management and service management. That’s not a bad thing, per se. It’s just simpler. It’s canned. It’s a template service, with appropriate governance wrapped around it.
Maybe it’s time for those of us who spend lots of time thinking about governance to define specific workloads, and how to govern them, end-to-end, so that you can focus on delivering business value, and driving adoption of SharePoint. Maybe we can at least define governance for services and workloads that help customers avoid going down the wrong path and hurting themselves.
Then, perhaps, as an organization starts to see real value in both SharePoint’s capabilities and in the role of governance, the organization will take the time to learn how to do governance right… to invest the time and resources in defining end-to-end governance that really is specific to the needs of the organization.
What Can We Do to Unlock the Bottlenecks?
What do you think we can do to address the reality in many organizations that, while governance must “depend” on what you’re really doing with SharePoint, many organizations don’t know enough about SharePoint or even about their own objectives to be able to do it right? What can those of us with voices in the governance space do to help unblock the bottlenecks and remove the obstacles that prevent an organization from investing the time and resources to governance?
I look forward to your thoughts and comments!