On Gardens and Governance

Just as a garden needs continual maintenance in order to maintain its appearance, so also SharePoint deployments need continual governance in order to maintain their effectiveness.

Rather than explain the "what" of SharePoint Governance, this series of blog posts looks at the "why" and the "how".

A few years ago, there was an advert that ran in the UK.  It was for a combined weed-killer and lawn feed.  The advert showed a couple moving into a home.  From memory, I think they were supposed to be newlyweds (or something like that).  We saw a brief shot of them using a packet of the product and casually shaking it across the lawn.  The shots then moved to a montage of them redecorating the house.  Slowly it transformed into a dream home.  Interspersed were shots of the lawn; the weeds were dying and the lawn was becoming more and more luxurious.  And by the time it came to summer, the happy couple threw open the doors, gave the lawn a once over with a mowing machine and they had an equally perfect lawn.  Cue the shot of the product with a voiceover that said something like, "For easy gardening and weed-free lawns, use Product X".

Except, we all know that it isn't that easy.  And it certainly isn't that easy to manage and maintain your SharePoint environment.  However, I do find folks who seem to give as much attention to their use of SharePoint as our happy couple lavished on their lawn.  In the world of adverts, you'd have a fantastic environment with happy users and projects that delivered on time and to budget.  But the real world can be a little less forgiving.

If the real world of gardening requires a series of tasks and activities throughout the whole year, is it possible that controlling a SharePoint environment would need equally as much attention?  I certainly think so.  Now, I'm no gardener, but it seems to me that there are three essential things that a well managed garden needs: feeding, watering, tending and looking after what is already planted; planning for the planting of new flowers, trees, and shrubs; and weeding, clipping, cutting and pruning existing flora.

Without being expert gardeners or professional horticulturalists, we've simply stated that maintaining a garden consists of three core elements:

  • Maintaining what's already there
  • Planning for the introduction of new elements
  • Removing that which is no longer needed or wanted

The first post that provides the introduction can be found here: On Gardens and Governance (Post 1)

The second post that discusses the need to maintain the existing state can be found here: On Gardens and Governance (Post 2)

The third post that discusses the need to cover the mechanisms for introducing new elements: On Gardens and Governance (Post 3)

The last post that discusses the removal of content, sites, and people from the SharePoint farm(s): On Gardens and Governance (Post 4) 


But first: The SharePoint Governance Board

Now, for most of us, we need a team of a single person to do our garden maintenance as we live in modest houses.  But some people live in large, expensive houses that have large expansive gardens that need more than one person to keep control.  And some folks have such large gardens they are called "the grounds" and have their own dedicated team of people.

I'm lucky enough to have Microsoft's name pave the way for me to talk to large corporates and household names.  These organizations are analogous to the large estates: they have armies of people to manage and maintain their IT environments.  So, before we get to the mechanics of Maintenance, Planning and Removal, I'm going to spend a bit of time to consider the people that should be involved with governing the SharePoint environment: The SharePoint Governance Board.

If you have a smaller estate, you will still need to make sure that these roles are addressed but there may be some doubling up.  If you work on a large estate, you'll have people dedicated to each role.

The SharePoint Governance Board is the group of people who are really responsible for the SharePoint environment.  This team will function as the body that will implement the governance of SharePoint and so it needs to be comprised of the people who will actually do the work.  This means it needs to have representatives from the business users who actually use the system, the operations team who run and maintain the environment, and the developers who produce new solutions for use on the platform, etc.  In addition, some form of technical design authority can be used to balance the long term view against the short term gain and so arbitrate amongst the other members.

I'd recommend the SharePoint Governance Board reports to an Executive Sponsor on a monthly basis.  This is to provide input on how the environment is performing, to advise of upgrades that might be needed and to discuss forthcoming extensions or new solutions.  This level of visibility ensures the SharePoint Governance Board is held accountable for its decisions and actions.

Aside: The Governance Plan

As one of its first acts, this body should produce a Governance Plan.  This is nothing more than a living document that details how they want SharePoint to be managed and controlled.  Unfortunately, there isn't a single Governance Plan that covers every organization.  This is because each organization is different from the other and so the rules about how SharePoint can be most effectively used differ.  However, the list of things for which a Governance Plan needs to be defined is consistent.

Without being too simplistic, you need to produce a list of all the elements of SharePoint in use within your organization.  Each entry in this list needs to have a Governance Plan that dictates how you wish to exercise control over it.  If I were to give an exhaustive list of everything that needs to be governed, I'd simply list out every feature of SharePoint or every element that has an administrative interface in Central Admin.

To my mind, it's better to outline what needs to be done.  If you use Team Sites, you need to govern how they are created, how much space they can use, the mechanism for their eventual destruction, and who can perform the user management within a team site, etc.  So, list out what features and capabilities you use, consider how you want them controlled, and this produces your Governance Plan.

As the Governance Plan is a living document, it can be refined over time.  Don't worry if the first version doesn't include every single element.  It's better to make a start and improve over time than get paralyzed and not produce anything.  It's better to begin to take control and wrestle the beast into submission than simply avoid its gaze and hope that things will magically get better one day.

Technical Design Authority

A key role on the SharePoint Governance Board is the Technical Design Authority.

The Technical Design Authority is responsible for ensuring that the right features of SharePoint are being used in the right way.  In addition, they are responsible for ensuring that SharePoint is deployed in a manner that means it will be able to function in a correct and proper manner.  This role is often performed by an Enterprise Architect.

Perhaps their most important function is to balance the long term view against the short term gain.  This approach can help to prevent the creation of siloes created through rogue installations by explaining why it might be better to wait until an approved solution is available.  Alternatively, if a short-term custom solution is genuinely needed, they can include its eventual migration to the approved solution, when available.

By controlling the approach to Solution Development and Deployment, the Technical Design Authority helps to drive the "configure vs. build vs. buy" decisions.  This is meant to minimize unnecessarily complex solutions and encourage reuse and not reinvention.

In summary, the Technical Design Authority is responsible for a depth understanding of SharePoint and should be able to explain these capabilities to the SharePoint Governance Board and so provide guidance on the best way forward.

Business Owner

Important though the Technical Design Authority is, they must work with the Business Owner who represents the business on the SharePoint Governance Team.

The Business Owner manages the overall design and functional integrity of the solution from a business perspective.  That is, they are responsible for making sure that any use of SharePoint actually meets the needs of the business.

The Business Owner can be thought of as a scout who moves ahead of the business, understands the territory that is coming up, and decides on the best route forward.  The rest of the business finally catches up and walks in the footsteps of the Business Owner.  In so doing, they avoid the pitfalls and problems previously identified by the Business Owner.

Whilst the Business Owner does not have to be an IT expert, it really is much better if they understand what SharePoint should be used for and some of its underpinnings.  A good working relationship with the Technical Design Authority can allow for some informal sessions in which various elements of SharePoint can be demonstrated.  In this way, they can be appraised of capabilities that might be soon used and provide advice and guidance on ways in which they can be best configured and deployed.

In summary, the Business Owner sits on the SharePoint Governance Board and represents the business.  They also help with looking into the future to plan for the introduction of new capabilities.

Operations Director

The Operations Director is primarily responsible for ensuring the current implementation of the SharePoint environment works as intended and as needed by the business.

This is a crucial role as they can help prevent the unintended consequences of poor solutions being deployed.  With an eye on the stability of the platform, they can help provide input about the impact of deploying a new solution or capability.  The Operations Director typically controls the Staging environment in which new solutions are tested before they are made live.

Their daily role is to perform the many tasks associated with a healthy SharePoint environment.  They perform the backup and recovery, database management and farm administration as well as monitoring the health of the individual SharePoint servers, etc.

Leaving aside their day-day tasks, the role of the Operations Director on the SharePoint Governance Board is to assist in understanding the impact of decisions that might be otherwise made without appreciating how they affect the operational system.

Being involved in the long term planning of the SharePoint environment also enables them to plan for the skills management of their team.  For example, there might be a decision to move to introduce a Disaster Recovery site and this would need some form of database replication other than a simple backup and restore.  As such, the Operations Director can ensure his team are trained on, say, SQL Server mirroring and so support the new and expanded system.

In summary, the Operations Director provides the "real-world" view of what can be achieved by understanding the impact of what might be proposed.

Solution Development

Solution Development needs to have a position on the SharePoint Governance Board in order to provide input on how best to implement the new business needs identified by the Business Owner.

The Solution Development role is responsible for understanding how to build applications that run on SharePoint.  In addition, they are aware of the backlog of requested projects and the program of work to implement these.  As such, they are crucial in understanding how things can be phased in order to keep a steady stream of new capabilities being introduced onto the platform without overwhelming the development resources.

The Solution Development role works in conjunction with the Business Owner the Technical Design Authority to address a given business need.  By making use of the Solution Development role, you help to stop the business from using a particular feature or capability when a better one is available.  For example, instead of using wiki pages to keep track of something, a solution with a custom list and some information management policies might be more appropriate.  The Solution Development role provides expert advice in this area.

Next Time

So, there we have it.  The Governance Board is comprised of a number of people who have various interests and expertise but which works together to ensure that SharePoint will be used in a successful way within the organization.  Instead of fighting against each other, the Governance Board brings together all the people who have a vested interest in SharePoint and how it is used.

Now that we have the team in place, next time we'll continue and discuss some of the issues in maintaining the garden in its steady state.



Callum Shillan
Solution Architect