Why Do Microsoft SharePoint Governance Docs Miss the Mark? They’re Written for the IT Pro

March 27, 2009 at 1:32 pm | Posted in Governance, Microsoft SharePoint | 5 Comments

Joel Oleson’s post yesterday entitled “SharePoint Documentation – Why Does it Stink?” blames the “continuous publishing model” for never-ending sprawl on MSDN and TechNet.  I think the governance documentation is lacking and for another reason – it’s written for the wrong people.First, a little history may help here. I’ve been preaching the importance of governance to shore up the increasing implementation failures I was seeing in SharePoint since 2004. I gave a presentation on the Microsoft campus to over 400 Microsofties about governance and why they should care (bottom line: because when SharePoint grows like weeds, the weed whackers eventually cut it down). I returned in 2005 and did another large presentation, this time including my definition of governance:

Web governance uses people, policy, and process to resolve ambiguity, manage short- and long-range goals, and mitigate conflict within an organization

After that, I continued to talk about governance with my clients who were highly motivated to learn more about it, but the interest seemed to fade away at Microsoft.

Until about 2007 when Joel Oleson picked up the governance gauntlet and really got things moving. Joel had the respect both within and outside Microsoft to lend credibility to the idea that governance was of great importance to implementers of SharePoint.

But Joel is no longer at Microsoft (he’s at Quest, a Microsoft partner) and governance seems to have gotten derailed at Microsoft. Not that it’s ignored – there is tons of material on TechNet’s Governance Resource Center for SharePoint Server 2007. If anything, there’s a lack of editing oversight to massage the best materials into a single version of truth rather than allowing sprawl (a lack of governance for the governance site perhaps? Ha!). Joel’s blames the “continuous publishing model”, but I think it stinks for a different reason.

I’ve systematically looked through all the materials on the governance site and my conclusion is that Microsoft is targeting its SharePoint governance guidance at the IT Pro (Microsoft’s term for professional techies like programmers and sysadmins). The IT Pro role should not be creating a SharePoint Statement of Governance; it should be the purview of a business analyst and/or their business partner.

Note: I said the IT Pro “role”. I’m not saying techies can’t understand business stuff. Some with that role want to stretch themselves to other roles and have talent on the business side too. But the correct target for “how to create governance” materials is the “business analyst” role, which should not be forced on an IT pro that isn’t purposely trying to move into a different position. How do you know if your IT pro is one of the rare ones that should write a governance doc? Tell them they have 4 weeks to write the governance doc during which they will not write a single line of code or script, not open any API manuals or technical docs, their output will be narratively written (non-technical and non-procedural) textual content that goes through multiple levels of change/review/approval, and everyone they talk to will be business folks discussing things like policies, risk, and – most importantly – internal politics. If they say “that sounds great!” you’ve got the right person! Because that’s what it takes to write a SharePoint SOG.

What happens when someone acting in the IT pro role writes governance is that, like anyone, they concentrate on what they know. This means a few pages of business pabulum about goals and roles followed by dozens of pages of techie stuff they feel confident in the quality and value of such as topography diagrams, system settings, and operations/dev procedures. The definition now used is based on mine, but adds “technology” to the list of tools. Adding “technology” to the governance definition is a slippery slope. Technology should not be part of governance except as surfaced by processes – and even then sparingly.

The materials on the TechNet site quickly slip down that slope. For example, the sample governance plan gets into techie jargon by page 2, has a topography diagram on page 4, and the signoff sheet is just up-and-down the IT chain, which is no surprise since the role listing contains no executives. The video posted there has a guy saying governance is a “fancy word for the owners manual”. No, that would be called the “operations/maintenance manual”.  This isn’t about how to use the stereo in the car or remove the tire jack.  This is about (to extend the example) a family of cars and what tradeoffs have been made in the designs based on its goals, how it relates to other automotive families the brand offers, an executive statement granting authority to create five more cars in this family but only within given bounds to optimize value to the overall brand relative to others, what committees are authorized to make decisions within the governance framework, etc.

Governance does not equal a maintenance manual or ops manual. If the definition of governance is the hangup (“you think governance is x, I think it’s y – there’s no right or wrong …”) then please consider a mental tag instead: busgov. There exists a thing, busgov, that addresses SharePoint, has zero overlap with maintenance or operations manuals, and uses people, policy, and process to resolve ambiguity, manage short- and long-range goals, and mitigate conflict within an organization. The author and audience of busgov is different than that of maintenance and ops manuals. Organizations that don’t do busgov may still succeed, but the likelihood is reduced and degree of success may be reduced.

The Microsoft materials have usefully taken the maintenance manuals up a level to force the IT pro author to think about a level above the bits and bytes with things like roles, business SLAs, and a quick acknowledgement of the business value that is the goal of delivering SharePoint. Great – but they may provide a false sense of security that “governance” has been taken care of when its pitfalls – the same ones that I was talking about in 2004 – have not actually been addressed.

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5 Comments »

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  1. […] there has been some insightful debate on why Microsoft SharePoint governance documents are missing the mark by doing just that – relying too much on technology to do the job. When governance becomes about […]

  2. […] there has been some insightful debate on why Microsoft SharePoint governance documents are missing the mark by doing just that – relying too much on technology to do the job. When governance becomes about […]

  3. I agree with you

    Just had a book published by ISACA to address this need. Business leads and IT enables… simple you would think

    Check it out and tell me what you think

    http://www.isaca.org/Template.cfm?Section=Search&template=/Ecommerce/ProductDisplay.cfm&ProductID=1048

  4. All good points…perhaps I can help the “business” and management side of things by providing my insights on what I think SharePoint Governance is all about…. I’ve started writing and will continue to write a series of blog posts on the subject:
    http://sharepointpmp.com/category/governance/

  5. […] there has been some insightful debate on why Microsoft SharePoint governance documents are missing the mark by doing just that – relying too much on technology to do the job. When governance becomes about […]


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