SharePoint does not give you Web Governance

  • 15-Jun-2009

Last week I attended a conference keynote session where Microsoft's Tricia Bush (Group Product Manager, SharePoint) asserted that SharePoint was helping to provide Web governance with its workflow services.

Now, I've seen a lot of SharePoint implementations and I think and dream about Web Governance constantly, so I found this comment disturbing. Software vendors say interesting things about their products all the time.  But because of the viral-like quality of SharePoint implementations, I thought it was worth stating clearly that SharePoint does not provide Web Governance.

A proper Web Governance scenarios contains three components:

  • A Framework for Web Decision Making -- that's the thing that keeps people from fighting over who's "in charge" of the Web. Frameworks are established by sitting down with all those in the organization who feel like they have deep ownership in the Web and determining who should have control and authority over things like the graphical design, information architecture, Web tools and application development, and the Web network and server infrastructure.
  • A Comprehensive set of Web Policies -- Policies express the constraints the organization must emplace, the regulations they need to follow, and the values an organization most uphold when implementing their Web presence. Contrary to popular belief, Web Polices are not technical or editorial guidelines nor do they mandate or specify the use of any particular technology. Rather they help protect the organization from negative outcomes that can occur from time to time when publishing to the Web, as well as enable the Web team to execute freely without having to constantly check-in regarding the implementation of the new content or applications.
  • A Complete Set of Web Standards -- These are the specific protocols and rules for Web development. They cover the full range from communications-focused concerns like editorial voices, through structural concerns like information architecture and Web management tools, all the way to the most technical aspects of Web management, like server load balancing. End-to-end standards set by cross-functional teams of Web experts are the lifeblood of any Web presence.


Last time I looked, SharePoint doesn't give you those three things out of the box. I'm not a tool girl, but I think I'm right on this one. It would be cool if SharePoint came with a full set of Web polices and standards that were right for your organization right in the box. But, given the state of Microsoft's own Web presence, I'd say they have enough Web Governance matters to tackle at home before they start working on yours. But I could be wrong.

Web Governance by tool implementation has been tried by organizations for the last 15 years. It doesn't work. Now, SharePoint might be an important part of the implementation and enforcement of standards. For instance, a content management product -- like SharePoint -- should help constrain what gets published, and how, by who. But lots of tools can do that. So, I'm not just picking on SharePoint. No Web management software -- no matter how pervasive, or how good or bad the workflow, permissions, or templating functionality -- is going to solve the tough Web governance-related debates that rage within organizations. The only thing that will solve that problem is for organizational Web stakeholders to sit down and have the tough discussions about who has authority over different aspects of Web management.

The lack of real Web Governance in your organization, not which content management tool you are using, is most likely the primary reason why your Website quality isn't quite what you might want. Lack of Web Governance is most likely why you've been implementing content management tool after content management tool and not getting the desired sustainable results. Maybe you can't get everyone in your organization to use the tools, or participate in your migration schedule, or maybe they're implementing their own tools -- even though you think your group is in charge. These are all governance problems, and SharePoint can't do anything to solve them.

I did go up to Ms. Bush after the talk to tell her that she didn't know what Web Governance was, and suggested she look at my definition. She smiled and was very gracious, and said that she always liked to learn more about Web Governance, so that she could get better at it. Couldn't we all...