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A Tale of Two Governances - Part One: Health Benchmark

When you read about governance, it is often focused on what I call the “foundational governance”.  In the case of information technology we focus on foundational information governance, or the way we intend to use our information within the organization.This however, is only one of two parts of the actual governance needed for the management of our information. The second portion which is often not considered governance, encompasses the processes and procedures needed to maintain the systems that are used to manage and transmit information.  I refer to this governance as operational governance and it consists of the structure, policies and procedures to ensure a stable and consistent information management solution.

Operational Governance

The governance of the sustainment processes within an organization are typically hit and miss.  Most organizations will have some type of backup and recovery process, but how many have a process for the creation of sites in an ECM like SharePoint?  Now don’t get me wrong, some organizations are very dutiful in creating what they perceive as needed for processes to maintain and administrate their systems. The problem is that many do not create the processes, and those that do don’t necessarily get everything they need. As a consultant, I come into organizations that are experiencing pain, usually in the governance of their solutions, and my job is to determine the gaps and remediate them.  One of the best ways to evaluate gaps in the operational governance of a solution (regardless of the technology) is to interview the administrators and key business users, perform a health assessment of the system and make recommendations on best practice based on the gaps. In some cases, we would then move to remediate those gaps as a final step.  These steps serve to quickly identify what exists and what does not exist and helps me understand the technical skills of the administrative team.

In this post we will walk through identifying our current state, and in a future post we will look at the rest of the operational governance that should be considered to ensure a properly sustained environment.

The Interviews

The first steps in the process are the interviews. In a SharePoint solution, I like to sit down with the farm administrators, the site collection administrators and the service desk manager.  These three groups or persons can provide insight into pain and into items that take up a significant portion of their daily activity. Following are a few questions I will typically ask and why I ask them.  It is also important that you are clear about your purpose, as a consultant coming in they may perceive you as critiquing them on their job, but we are there to help them be heard and to fix their pain.

In other solutions, you may have different roles, as long as you can extract the pain and issues for the solution, your interviews can be with whoever can best provide the answers.

Farm Administrators

Farm administrators are your best source of information when it comes to issues with operational governance.  They know the solution better than anyone else and have to deal with everything and anything that goes wrong.  Often it is easiest to just sit down over coffee and a notebook and ask them what is wrong with the solution and what they would fix, then sit back, let them vent and take notes; but I like to have a plan so I typically compile a list of questions to ask before hand (let me know if you have some good questions and I can add them):

  1. Do you have anything that maps out your daily routine? This is asked to first establish the existence of a “Run Book” or standard operating procedures (SOP).
  2. Do you have any tickets assigned to you that are more than 30 days old? If yes, what are those tickets and what is preventing you from closing them?  This will help identify not only gaps in knowledge, but also pain areas in architecture or process.  There is often an in depth conversation into cause and what they would like to see happen to help resolve these issues.
  3. Are there any issues that keep recurring or that never really go away?  This provides insight into pain areas where they may have a work around or an area where they have decided to perform something a specific way and it is not working.  This is another area we will have additional conversations about how they think it should be.
  4. Do you have any performance issues with the current farm?  If yes, do you know the cause? Have you researched a solution? Performance issues identify issues with the farms architecture and/or configuration that may be hampering the solution and preventing it from performing as intended.  It also helps gauge knowledge level and root cause problem solving capabilities.
  5. Which group or groups are the most active on your farm? This will identify who to interview from a site collection administrator perspective, concentrating on the site collections that are the most active and the most need of support.
  6. Do you have remote offices that access the farm?  How good is their connection? Do you get performance tickets from those offices? Often, remote connectivity is an issue and identifying where these connections are occurring and if there are issues up front will save you time and effort.  Follow the premise that it is easier to ask the question than search for it; tools are great, but the farm administrator will have insight the tools can’t provide.

Notice I didn’t ask them questions like how many farms, the servers on the farm, the number of content databases and their size.  These can be asked, but typically you know those things before you begin the engagement and even if you don’t, reports from SPRAP or any other health assessment tool will clearly give you all this information.  At DevFacto, we have developed our own health assessment tool to answer all the farm questions and to touch over 100 different areas in the farm.  I have included the areas in my post, “What should I Check With a Health Assessment?” and would love any feedback you have on the points and questions.

Once completed, we can move on to the Site Collection Administrator questions.  Site Collection Administrators have less knowledge of the configuration, but provide a direct point of contact with your key stakeholders.

Site Collection Administrators

Based on question number five above, you should have an idea of which Site Collection Administrators are needed for this portion of the questioning.  In smaller organizations, the Site Collection Administrators may be the Farm Administrators – you should be able to figure that out quickly when beginning the engagement.  The Site Collection Administrators are a SharePoint solution’s first line of direct contact and problem solving in the business. They are the most likely to know what the users want changed and what issues are recurring the most from a user experience perspective.

  1. Do you have anything that maps out your daily routine? This serves a different purpose than with Farm Administrators. Here, you are looking for what is taking up most of their day.  If they don’t have it mapped out, you should sit down with them and ask what a typical day would look like.  They may have trouble providing it, so another approach is to ask them to do some logging activities for a couple days, recording what they are working on.  You can then review it and confirm if the tasks are typical or not.
  2. Do you have any requests from your business users you have not been able to fulfill?  If yes, what has prevented you from fulfilling them?  This will often identify issues with configuration, policy or knowledge level. Use it as a sounding board to ensure the architecture meets the business needs.
  3. Are there any issues that keep recurring or that never really go away?  This provides insight into pain areas where they may have a work around or an area where they have decided to perform something a specific way and it is not working.  This is another area in which we will have additional conversations about how they think it should be.
  4. If you could change anything about the solution what would you change?  Site Collection Administrators often have good feedback on improvements specific to user experience and functionality. Make note of the changes, then identify them as future state requests for remediation and roadmapping.

Remember these questions are really meant to draw out the pain points and issues with the environment.  You may hear the same response from many different people, which should raise the importance of the issue.  Some of the answers may be symptoms of a deeper problem, and it will be your job to determine that before attempting to remediate it.

Service Desk Manager

The Service Desk Manager can provide you tangible feedback on where issues are occurring, open tickets and typical complaints that users have made about the system.  They are the support of what has been discussed with the farm and site collection administrators and will provide additional insight and numbers behind the importance of certain issues that have been identified.

  1. Can you provide a report of ticket opened for SharePoint in the last 6 months?  This should provide ticket count, time to close and total percentage of tickets for each category.
  2. What are the main complaints your team hears in regards to SharePoint?  The Service Desk is the first line for support, so they hear most of what the users like and dislike about the solution.
  3. What would you change about SharePoint if you could?  This is an open ended question and should elicit conversation on improvements and pain that they feel from their environment.

Remember the questions above are a starting point, you want to draw out their pain experience.  In some cases it might be better to talk directly to the business units, but always remember these interviews are about insight into issues pertaining to the environment.

Health Assessment

As mentioned above, the Health Assessment portion is usually done through a tool that compiles all the information about the environment.  It analyzes your solution and provides feedback on all areas that need to be considered.  Please refer to my “What Should I Check with a Health Assessment?” post for actual check points and complete it in whatever manner you wish.

Report and Remediation

From the interviews and health assessment, a report of gaps and issues with the design can be created and presented to organizational decision makers.  From the resulting report, you will be able to identify and prioritize of the issues involved.  Use this information to build a remediation plan that includes the issue, it’s criticality, a prioritized solution to the issue and the effort needed to resolve the issue. Then, sit down with the decision makers and work out the remediation plan to resolve the issues.  The plan should provide a timeline for each resolution and the resource allocation needed to resolve it.

Originally posted on Moss Adventures.