How to Jump Start SharePoint Governance

One of the most common questions surrounding metadata and taxonomy management is ‘How do you begin?’ As with most user-driven technologies, SharePoint is often “unleashed” without proper planning or governance structures, and most administrators find themselves needing to retroactively apply standards across their environment. Companies tend to hoard information and may find themselves overwhelmed by the disorganization – and how to even begin the process to get things under control.

Without proper management, search becomes ineffective, content become silos hidden behind team sites (or even within team sites), and user satisfaction plummets.

Unfortunately, there is no “easy” button to fix this problem – and its not a problem unique to SharePoint. Even the most proactive organizations struggle from time to time with managing their system governance. If you’re reading this, you more than likely are looking for help in strengthening this aspect of your current SharePoint system, or are planning for a future deployment. In either case, there are some things you can implement to jumpstart your efforts as you look to put in place a more formal governance model:

  1. Create an internal SharePoint user group
    Even if your plan is to release a tightly-controlled portal with strict guidelines around content types, workflow, and usage, you still need to involve the users and get their perspective. The power of SharePoint is its ability to inspire collaboration, even within a meticulously choreographed user experience. You need to tap into the community as a way to refine your model, adapt your systems to the ebb and flow of the business, and, quite simply, to learn from your users.  I’d suggest creating both a task force with accountability for compiling and approving your taxonomy and the governance model itself, and then to send an open-invite to all employees to participate in a broader user group. As part of your process, have the task force present their results to the user group before finalizing their plans. By allowing users to participate in and define the process, the users will have a vested interest in the success of the system.
  2. Clearly define roles and responsibilities
    Governance Task Force chair and members. Farm Administrators. Site Administrators. Project Owners. Approvers. Reviewers. Identifying core permissions and groups within SharePoint is one aspect, but modeling your governance model on your internal project methodology makes sense. If you don’t have a defined methodology, once again – keep it simple. Err on the side of ad hoc flexibility over rigid structure, as it is easier to add structure as needed than to remove it. At Microsoft, I was a fan of the OARP model: Owner, Approver, Reviewer, Participant. It was simple and clear (when it was used). At the very least, you should understand and assign similar roles within your organization so that it is evident where accountability resides.
  3. Outline your taxonomy, communicate it, and iterate
    Once again, this is the most difficult aspect of governance for most organizations: putting pen to paper and outlining your taxonomy. Funny thing is, many companies already have their high-level taxonomy outlined — on their websites. Product lines, business units, and site maps. It’s a good place to start. Sit down with your governance task force with a fixed amount of time (an hour) and create a high-level draft. Then publish the draft out to the end-user community for feedback. The point here is to create something, get feedback, and iterate. Follow this process several times, keeping the time short so that you have minimal impact on day-to-day business. By taking it in small steps, it also allows you to step back and reflect after each iteration. You’ll be amazed at quickly things will then come together – and, with everyone participating, your taxonomy will more closely reflect the way your users work, and the way your business is actually run. But remember: this is just a start. Your governance task force should perform a regular review (monthly/quarterly) of your taxonomy and metadata, sharing proposed changes with the community and incorporating feedback. In SharePoint 2010, this means regularly reviewing the enterprise Term Stores, the various Managed Terms and Managed Keywords, and promoting keywords as needed, ensuring that your model stays relevant. 

Clearly, there is a lot of work to do within these steps as well as outside, but by taking action now, you will be well-positioned for success – with both the data required to put your SharePoint taxonomy in place, and with the necessary team (and cultural) support to successfully implement your governance model.

My advice: keep it simple, let your processes grow and develop organically, and keep your users – and especially your internal SharePoint community – in the loop on what you’re thinking and doing. These things will go a long way in ensuring your SharePoint deployment is successful (i.e. people are using it!)

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and M365 Apps & Services MVP, and an award-winning product marketer and technology evangelist, based in Silicon Slopes (Lehi), Utah. He is the Director of North American Partner Management for leading ISV Rencore (, leads content strategy for TekkiGurus, and is an advisor for both revealit.TV and WellnessWits. He hosts the monthly #CollabTalk TweetJam, the weekly #CollabTalk Podcast, and the Microsoft 365 Ask-Me-Anything (#M365AMA) series.