The Governance Elephant

Governance is one of those necessary items on a SharePoint project that everyone knows about but no one wants to be the first to discuss.  It is the proverbial elephant in the room, the huge obstacle in the corner that people hope will be ignored if they do not directly address it.  While this might be a “strategy” for some, it is certainly not a practical means of dealing with the matter.  The risk operating in this fashion is that ignoring Governance early on can lead to errors in your foundation and thus be a costly mistake in the future, let alone the day-to-day headaches that make navigating your SharePoint site painful.  This article walks you through some of the concepts to discuss in order to begin the Governance conversation at your company.

One of the things I get asked often at conferences and client sites is where to start the conversation of governance.  The questions range a fair bit; should the discussion be introduced during procurement, mid-implementation or once SharePoint is implemented?  In my experience, companies struggle to understand the definition of SharePoint governance and that leads to a more complex discussion around where it should begin and how to introduce it.  Governance is a necessary step in your SharePoint maturity and something that you will have to address and implement in order to consider your project successful.  The earlier you and your project team agree with this point, the sooner you can move ahead and plan your governance strategy.

Consider this example; if a teenager was put behind the wheel of a car and told to “drive”, without a lesson or concept in how to drive, what would the result be?  Probably not a good one.  To your project team and end users, Governance should be seen as a necessary element of SharePoint and something that you will have to address and implement in order to maintain consistency and normalcy, as well as self-police your environment.  It is and always will be an enterprise system and thus, should be seen this way by your organization; remember, you cannot consider your project successful if Governance is not seen as an enterprise function.

In some cases, it helps to show what a poorly structured Governance strategy can “do” to an organization in order for it to be understood.  Take a 500 person organization with a 25 person IT group and 40 person HR department.  HR was responsible for bringing SharePoint into the company, though IT now “owns” and manages it on a daily basis.  The company decided to rollout SharePoint to HR first, so they deploy a site for each person and a central homepage for people to collaborate on.  So far this sounds somewhat typical.  Unfortunately they did nothing on the Governance side, therefore, each of the 40 users has rights to create sites and sub-sites, upload documents wherever they please, and have no concept of collaboration.  A few users have even created a site for each document, and others have uploaded their entire legacy drive onto SharePoint.  You can see that with only 40 people accessing the system, things can get out of hand very quickly.

Explaining this example, though somewhat extreme, shows the importance of having Governance in place and, also, one of the things to avoid at your organization.  When you begin the conversation internally, start with a good definition of what Governance is; it is a starting point of rules and policies in order to set expectations of how SharePoint will be used internally.   As you expand the discussion, use the example of the fictional company in this article.  Explain that in order for a site to be created, the underpinnings and high-level architecture will have to be in place.  This is the foundation which ensures that sites for different business units are created appropriately and within the rightful area.  When defining your sites and site collections, corporate decisions must be made; such as how many sites and sub-sites will be allowed.  What will the default size be, and will they be created from the same master page and template?  What process will be followed to request that a site is created, and how will access be granted and governed?  These are all discussion points and critical elements of your Governance plan.

With your theoretical sites discussed and created, how will you set policies and expectations for their use?  My advice is as follows; if your Governance has been created with the right policies and procedures, compliance should be straight-forward and for the most part not necessary at the whistleblower level.  Having someone point and click through your top level sites once a week, or month, should be sufficient.  You can plan for this by initially trying to self-police as much as possible.  If you have site or site collection owners, empower them with the responsibility of making sure that policies are followed.


Eric Riz


Eric RizEric Riz (SharePoint MVP) is the Executive Vice President of Concatenate, a software firm focused on maximizing SharePoint through product innovation and systems integration based in Toronto, Canada. You can reach Eric by e-mail at or on Twitter at @rizinsights. Read his other SharePoint thoughts on his blog at

Do you have any questions for Eric? If so, please post your questions below.

For more on Governance why not check out Dan Holme’s ESPC13 conference presentation on ‘SharePoint Governance, Part 1: Implementing End-to-End SharePoint Governance‘. Downlaod Now>>

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