Managing SharePoint Sites Suck?

I’ve discovered that most complaints about SharePoint are from the self-imposed or top-down-imposed SharePoint administrators who are stuck with managing SharePoint sites. I do feel sorry for you guys, you didn’t ask for it, or even if you did you probably thought it was suppose to be easier. In most cases, SharePoint was slapped together at your organization and instantly became adapted as a new network drive, so now you have a site with a ton of data everywhere.

These scenarios can be hectic, chaotic, and down right annoying. The biggest issue in most cases is governance: the art of controlling and governing your data and information flow. Managing your SharePoint site should be an easy task, and should be minimal, without a doubt. Poor governance is one large factor which provides for a mind numbing experience. SharePoint should be easy once it’s been implemented correctly.

A quick story. I was assistant coach for my son’s little league team. It was his first year playing, and the team had all boys from ages 6 to 8. For a lot of them, this was their first time playing. The excitement and joy poured out of the kids and into hyper activity. It was a little crazy at our first practice: kids running around, swinging bats at each other, etc. It was crazy but really fun to watch and experience. I let my son go to town and run around like a maniac as well.

The coach instantly set some rules: no one holds a bat unless they’re up to bat. Boom, I felt safer and stopped flinching (and governance was applied). If you wanted to play, you had to pay attention and listen quietly (more governance); no climbing on the fences (more governance); no leaving the dugout during a game (more); no throwing dirt (more); no helmets on unless you’re batting (more) and so on. As the season progressed the governance rules were tweaked, some were eased up and others were tightened. All the meanwhile, the boys still had a blast and the coach and parents had fun too.

Much like playing baseball with 7 year olds, governance is also essential for a successful SharePoint site. Governance within SharePoint utilizes site topology, permissions, audiences, and data categorization. Control who has access to what, where and how much.

  • Site topology is the site map, it helps define where sites and libraries live in relation to each other. It’s like the lay of the land. No topology makes governance very difficult.
  • Permissions control who have actual permissions to what, for example who can update files, who are read-only, and who have no access at all. Permissions is the core of governance. Permission management is a whole other ball of wax and should be done right.
  • Audiences help manage what your users see, it doesn’t necessarily stop them from doing certain things, but helps them see what they should. They might still figure out how to get to something in the back end library, and if they’re not supposed to, use permissions to lock them out.
  • Data categorization is less involved within governance, if at all, but I think it’s important to note. Categorization is initially defined by site topology, HR docs will be in the HR site (a category of data). Additional data categorization can include meta data and meta tags. The additional information help control how data is found and navigated to.

The latter two items, audiences and data categorization, should be considered in your governance plan, though I’ve seen more often it’s not. Governance (controlling who has access to what) can easily use audiences and meta data to help control what people can see. Filtering views can help control who sees what, but still allows users to access more if they really want to dig in deeper.

If we didn’t apply governance to our little league team, I’d be saying “managing my little league team sucks” because it would. I’d be going to practice with a protective cup, other kids might have black eyes, a broken leg from falling off the fence, etc. it would be a terrible experience for all, much like poorly governed SharePoint sites.

As a side note, it appears governance is simply saying No, no hitting, no throwing dirt, no saving a file there, no editing a file here. That’s one way of looking at it. I prefer, being the eternal optimist that I am, to look at it like you’re allowed to edit this file, you’re allowed to save a file here, you’re allowed to play baseball, etc.

It’s not too late, if you’re in the muck and mire of a poorly governed SharePoint site you can still recover. Get with your governing bodies (managers, directors, etc) and figure out who should really have access to what. Start applying some governance in small doses. Use SharePoint’s web analytics to see what areas are the most popular, and apply it there. Don’t worry if you find it needing to change later, your governance (just like the US government) should be flexible, receive feedback and should react and grow with your business.

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