Big SharePoint governance mistakes

Steer clear of these common problems by taking some simple steps in your governance process.

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The Microsoft SharePoint platform makes it easy for organizations large and small to develop shared portals, allowing for greater collaboration and improved workflow management for teams working across the building or across the country.

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Unfortunately, "easy to develop" doesn't mean that they're easy to maintain. Even the most well meaning administrators can get into trouble when trying to maintain governance over a SharePoint site.

Here are two of the biggest SharePoint governance mistakes along with the steps you should take to avoid trouble:

Taking on too much at the beginning

When new SharePoint administrators begin governance duties on a shared portal, they see all of the wonderful functionality the platform offers, including advanced workflows and business intelligence. They want to turn on all the bells and whistles. This makes the learning curve very steep for users and administrators alike.

End users may have more difficulty adapting to the new collaborative way of working. They may shun the portal if they find it too confusing and if they are presented with too many options at once.

Administrators can find that they have trouble problem-solving— specifically, not being able to track a problem to its source. If there are too many possibilities, then it's hard to pinpoint which bell or whistle is causing the issue.

Rolling out SharePoint functionality in stages is a much better way to begin a portal. Start with the basic out-of-the-box collaboration and then move on to more features such as custom lists and workflows once users and administrators have gotten used to the system.

Duplicating too much information

Every department or team wants its own information in its own folders. But much of the shared work on the SharePoint portal is there because it belongs to the organization as a whole. Duplicating files and documents can quickly defeat the purpose of a shared portal.

Once administrators realize there is trouble with their portal, they often make things worse by trying to fix the situation.
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To avoid duplication, take inventory of the information that will be stored on the portal and conduct regular updates of that information. Keep track of the key information for each department as well as the information that is needed by everyone to ensure that all users get what they need from the system. Honing in on which content types are relevant for which user groups will help this process.

Once administrators realize there is trouble with their collaborative portal, more often than not, they make things worse by trying to fix the situation. Here are two big blunders that administrators make while trying to clean up and some tips for avoiding them:

Examining data and ignoring processes

Too many administrators look for trouble with the data on the portal without examining the processes that lead to the data being there. A good administrator establishes processes to keep the "junk" out.

If the administrator discovers that the team is always storing personal files on the portal, then he or she needs to step in with clearly defined parameters about what belongs and what doesn't. Depending on company policy, setting your portal to block files such as MP3s can also keep the wrong content out.

Storing old data can lead to trouble as well. Sites become overcrowded and much less useful if they aren't constantly being trimmed. Administrators can set up regular archiving for items older than a set amount of time. To prevent a lot of headaches, create site and document-archiving strategies and processes for items that have lost their relevance or are no longer active.

Looking at the site through tired Eyes

When trying to fix a portal that has grown out of control, it can be easy to forget what the original intent was. When trying to fix what went wrong, it is best to step away from the situation, perhaps over a weekend, and come back to the situation with fresh eyes.

It's also a good idea to bring in someone who isn't as close to the project as the administrator is to offer perspective. This could be one of the users in the organization, someone from the governance committee who is not involved with the portal on a day-to-day basis or even an outside consultant. Whether the perspective comes from elsewhere in the organization or from outside, be sure to treat "the fix" like a new implementation.

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Use the opportunity to reexamine what the original driver behind implementation was and what steps might be taken to get back on track. Make the most out of the second chance.

Rather than just cleaning up messes, take the time to reorganize the whole system. Some good questions to ask are: What are teams finding useful? Is the navigation clear enough for new users?

SharePoint's built-in usage reports can help administrators see what users are gravitating toward and what areas they're ignoring. Try using Site Use Confirmation and Deletion to stay current on Site Collections that have been orphaned.

As with many helpful technology tools, SharePoint portals are only as functional as their users and administrators make them. It's easy to let small governance mistakes turn into major headaches. Don't let the fixes turn them into even bigger problems. With careful thought, planning and maintenance, a collaborative portal can help teams across an organizational structure work together more closely and productively.

Paul West is a co-owner and co-founder of SharePoint360 LLC, a SharePoint consulting and hosting provider. West has extensive experience with SharePoint architecture and implementations. He has been working with SharePoint technologies since the Microsoft SharePoint release in 2001.

This was first published in September 2009
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