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Creating a SharePoint governance document

Learn which issues to include in your SharePoint governance document to avoid problems down the road.

What is a SharePoint governance document? Do you really need one?

A SharePoint governance document outlines policies and procedures regarding the way SharePoint is to be used and maintained within an organization. This document often addresses things like backup procedures and security settings and typically provides an acceptable use policy for the end users.

Why is it important to have a SharePoint governance document? 

One of my clients went through a situation a few days ago that underscores the need for such a document. This client's primary SharePoint site contained a discussion board where users collaborate with each other. Most of the discussion areas are business related, but some are intended to be fun.

One of the discussion areas on the site was titled "Anything Goes." One of the employees posted a redneck joke in this area. Although the joke was intended to be harmless, another employee got angry and claimed that it was an insult to his Southern heritage. What started out as an innocent joke escalated into a discrimination case and resulted in several employees leaving the company. Had this client created a SharePoint governance policy, this may never have happened.

Incidentally, the company has a SharePoint governance policy in place now. It still has its "Anything Goes" area, but it's open only to employees who sign away their right to be offended by anything posted in that area.

Anatomy of a SharePoint governance document

Unfortunately, there is no universal template for creating a SharePoint governance document. Every company's SharePoint deployment is different, so every company requires a different type of SharePoint governance document.

The list below contains some important governance issues, but depending on the size and complexity of an organization, other issues may need to be addressed. Microsoft has created a much more comprehensive SharePoint governance checklist that you can access for help in developing your document.

First, form a committee whose job it will be to determine the needs of the SharePoint governance document, and then create the document. Here are some of the more important issues for the committee to include in the governance document:

  • Create a site map for your SharePoint structure.
  • Create a policy outlining the criteria for creating additional SharePoint sites or for making substantial changes to the sites that are already in use.
  • Document which people were responsible for supporting and maintaining the site, and create a contact list.
  • Clearly define which roles members of the IT staff will take in supporting the SharePoint environment.
  • Decide who is allowed to request new SharePoint sites or changes to existing sites and under what circumstances.
  • Develop a change management process for SharePoint sites.
  • Design a policy for archiving older versions of the site, and stipulate how long those archives should be maintained.
  • Determine whether or not your company is going to charge individual departments for their use of the SharePoint site.
  • Provide training to your help desk staff, and create a policy for how the help desk staff should help users resolve problems.
  • Create a backup policy.
  • Determine upfront which tools will be allowed for developing and maintaining SharePoint sites.
  • Create a template from which all future pages of the site will be based.
  • Decide which parts of the template site owners are allowed to modify.
  • Determine which types of content are acceptable on your SharePoint site.
  • Specify the types of documents that should be stored in document libraries.
  • Establish document library workflow settings.
  • Create a document archival and retention policy.
  • Develop an acceptable use policy for the end users.

What to do with your SharePoint governance document?

Once a SharePoint governance document has been written, the first thing is to apply specifications from the document to your SharePoint site wherever possible. For example, if the governance document outlines workflow procedures, then you should build those workflow procedures into SharePoint rather than assuming that users will follow the procedures just because it is part of the company policy.

One last thing: Schedule an annual review to make sure that the SharePoint site still complies with the governance document and to see if the document needs to be updated.

Over the 15 or so years that I have worked in IT, I have seen a lot of well-intentioned companies take on various network- or security-related documentation projects, vowing that those documents will always be kept up to date. It has only been in the rarest of circumstances, though, that I have seen the company keep these types of documents up to date over the long term.

Creating a SharePoint governance document is a lot of work. All of this work will be in vain if you simply draft a document and then take no further action. So make sure you keep your governance document up to date. I guarantee it'll help you avoid more than a few problems down the road.

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Brien M. Posey has received Microsoft's Most Valuable Professional award five times for his work with Windows Server, IIS, file systems/storage, and Exchange Server. He has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and healthcare facilities and was once a network administrator for Fort Knox.

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