It’s all Joel’s fault…

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Here we go… another Cleverworkarounds waffle!

Now, we all know that Joel Oleson is the Russell Crowe of the SharePoint world! I mean, he’s multi-skilled, loads of talent, has the respect of his peers and has built a well deserved reputation of being one of the best at what he does. (Although unlike Russell I am fairly sure that he has not thrown a telephone at an annoying IT manager in a fit of rage just yet).

But despite his best intentions and with his heart in the right place, Joel is one of the unwitting architects of a butterfly effect that is now plaguing the SharePoint world. One that is now causing much pain and damage to already beleaguered enterprises.

In short, he set the wheels in motion that helped destroy a word via buzzword abuse 🙂 That word is…


See, way, way back in the bowels of time (okay, around 2006), when the stock market was soaring and therefore SOX compliance was being conveniently ignored by investors in equities, Joel’s blog was one of a couple of blogs of any significance SharePoint-wise. He was out there doing his bit for the common good, stressing the importance of governance in the SharePoint world before the word governance was really used in this context. Joel cited this article by Matthew Cain at Gartner which seems to be the root of it all. Now this is perfectly fine and dandy, but Joel made one fatal mistake that we are still feeling the effects of…

He de-nerdified his blog and made this stuff accessible! Thus, somewhere in the world, a marketing person read it and understood just enough syllables to get a gist of what Joel was talking about. Sensing the opportunity to add a new word to glossy brochureware, from that moment forward the true meaning of "governance" was lost forever as the snowball effect of a new buzzword taking root gained momentum. As the snowball rolls faster, more and more vendors get onto the bandwagon, each skewing the definition to suit their own ends.

So now, I am afraid that governance is now irreversibly sliding down the same slippery slope as such luminaries as "convergence", "portal", "ubiquitous", "social networking" and the current cream of the crop – "web 2.0".

…and it’s all Joel’s fault, right? 🙂

So, how to reclaim this word? I don’t know if you can. I have, however, decided to start a social experiment making my own future buzzword. More on that in a minute.

Governance = systems thinking

Before I present my version of what governance really means, I want to enlighten you to an important philosophical concept that underpins governance called "systems thinking" or "the systems approach". Systems thinking approaches problem solving from the perspective that the problem must be looked at as parts of an overall system, rather than focusing on individual outcomes. Wikipedia has quite a nice quote which captures the philosophy nicely.

Systems thinking attempts to illustrate that events are separated by distance and time and that small catalytic events can cause large changes in complex systems. Acknowledging that an improvement in one area of a system can adversely affect another area of the system, it promotes organizational communication at all levels in order to avoid the silo effect.

Either I have been officially typecast, or many organisations are feeling the same pain. The reason I say this is because I’ve been called in to assist organisations that are suffering a crisis of confidence with the SharePoint platform. In each case there are one or more highly visible and persistent problems that are causing user dissatisfaction. That translates to a stressed and under-confident SharePoint/IT project team who are questioning the validity of the SharePoint platform.

My brief in each was to help them pinpoint the root cause of their immediate pain, but in the context of a more holistic review of the SharePoint service to try and identify the gaps that allowed the situation to arise in the first place. The interesting fact about these sites is that they did have governance plans and on the surface of it all, most of the boxes could be ticked.

So, what went wrong?

It all boiled down to this: Stakeholders had a different interpretation of what governance actually means – the curse of a buzzword!. Most stakeholders in fact were more interested in the fact that they had a thirty page document someone wrote with "Governance plan" in the title and thought "okay that’s done, what’s next?".

This is not a systems thinking approach and therefore, this is not good governance. In fact, it really has missed the point entirely.

"SharePoint Assurance" is the new buzzword :-) 

At the end of the day, there are two immutable facts of working life.

1. We are all accountable to someone. Whether it is the board of directors being accountable to shareholders or the guy on the helpdesk being accountable to his operational manager, the vast majority of us are tasked with various responsibilities that our performance is judged on. If we fail to perform to the expectations, we not only let ourselves down, but we can adversely affect others.

2. We all want to go home from work, secure in the knowledge that we performed what was expected of us and we are still going to have a job tomorrow.

Both of these facts underpin the principle that we are all cogs in a complex organisational machine where our individual (and organisation-wide) fate is reliant on each other in complex, often implicit interdependencies.

Governance therefore is all about providing assurance. If you do not provide assurance, you will have fear, uncertainty and doubt. Take a look at the stock markets crashing around the world. Clearly assurance is in extremely short supply!

A Social Experiment

Now what I want to do twofold. For some strange reason I see the funny side of creating a new buzzword and see how long it takes to get to a brochure. Thus I am officially raising a virtual flag and laying claim to being the first person to use the term "SharePoint assurance" instead of SharePoint governance. (at the time of a writing a google search on this phrase yields only 5 hits).

Once you see the term in a marketing brochure, please let me know 🙂

But on a more serious note, I think that assurance in the SharePoint space can be done a lot better than it is and I have a few ideas on how this can be achieved.

More (hopefully much more) on this topic area soon…


Thanks for reading

Paul Culmsee

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10 Responses to It’s all Joel’s fault…

  1. Pingback: jthake's Bookmarks on Delicious

  2. Pingback: SharePoint Daily for October 14, 2008 - SharePoint Daily

  3. John Miller says:

    loved this article, it dovetails with work I’m currently doing. I posted an article with where I see Sharepoint Assurance leading us. hint (hybrid approach with IT and business units).

  4. Pingback: CleverWorkarounds » Root Causes of Communication Fragmentation: Organisational Culture

  5. Pingback: Root Causes of Communication Fragmentation: Part 2 - Organizational Culture | End User SharePoint

  6. I think Robert Bogue may have been in alliance (or the same meetings) as Joel in 2006.

    I’m afraid the Governance term seems to be sticking. But ask people what it means and very few will cover the breadth or depth of what was originally implied.

    I’m all for removing these exposing marketing buzzwords, we have enough myths and magic around the SharePoint platform without inventing more.

    SharePoint Assurance – to close to Software Assurance for Microsoft to pick this up I fear. But as you have so well defined above Assurance is really what is meant – what we are really seeing is the tradtional Software Quality Assurance and concepts covered by the likes of ITIL being repackaged.

    I don’t disagree with the idea of making this more accessible, I just hate the way everyone now claims to have ‘Governance’ sorted when all they really have is a document that just summerises what they most likey have in policies and procedures in there QMS system.

  7. Jeremy Thake says:

    You’ve tried to create buzz words before around SharePoint…I think SharePoint Governance is well and truly baked in and unless Microsoft change their stance I don’t think Assurance stands a chance mate! 😉 Whatever the word is, it still needs to be defined in terms of what it means…which as already been started around Robert Bogues work, Tim Curry’s Best Practices book, Joel’s Governance stuff etc…

    Governance is also what is used by Gartner, which is language CIOs understand too.

    There is a big difference between organisations claiming they have governance and a big document defining it and actually following these rules religiously. Take ITIL as an example.

  8. admin says:

    Did I make another buzzword attempt? – Ah this is an old post mate (oct 08), this was the only attempt 🙂

    Andrew, this post is in the same category as the “ISO for fun and profit” one, where my joke may be a little dry for some readers who have taken it literally.

    “Assurance” may also be a crap word, but its closer to the real meaning. Disregard the social experiment stuff that was never the real message anyway.

    Is it even possible to find me a word that covers systems thinking and accountability that conveys it clearly to the masses?

    Jeremy, “Governance is also what is used by Gartner, which is language CIOs understand too” that is the problem. Ask all of them what it means and you will get different answers. Just because its used (buzzword) doesn’t make it inherently better 🙁

  9. Pingback: SharePoint Governance: Putting Business back in control | End User SharePoint

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