Why do I need Governance for Office 365?

There’s an old project management adage, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. This is certainly true for deploying Office 365 and more specifically, SharePoint Online, for an organization. Planning involves more than just answering the technical questions needed to sync a company’s Active Directory to Office 365. Planning for Office 365 should involve coming up with a governance plan that covers not only the goals of the initial deployment but guidance on how an organization will use Office 365 over the long term.

First, then, let’s establish some foundational vocabulary. What is governance? In the case of Office 365, “governance” is the set of policies and procedures that a company defines in order to align the use of Office 365 with company goals. How are those policies and procedures established? Though the work of a governance board. What is a governance board? A governance board is a diverse group users representing executive stakeholders, a variety of departments, and technical stakeholders including the company’s SharePoint administrator(s) and compliance and security stakeholders.

Now let’s look at some common questions that the governance board would be responsible for addressing.

  • Service Capability Decisions
    • Should we provide, support, and train users on Sway?
      • This same question applies to any discrete application within Office 365 that can be turned on or off or are premium add-ons. Other examples are Yammer, Project Online, Azure Rights Management, and PowerBI.
    • This also can include deciding what the right choices are on many other settings in the administration pages for the Office 365 tenant.
    • This can also include decisions about the level of effort and money invested in taxonomy, content management, content lifecycle, and workflow capabilities.
    • Should the SharePoint/Delve user profile page become the employee directory?
  • Information Architecture questions
    • App Launcher (waffle menu) customizations, such as:
      • Do we allow custom App Launcher tiles to be created?
      • Who decides what custom App Launcher tiles can be created? What’s the request and approval process?
    • Who decides what links make up the top (global) navigation in the site? Again, is there a request and approval process for this?
    • Can site owners create subsites? If so, do they need to get approval, and if so, from whom?
    • What rules do we put in place about how the sites and site content are organized?
  • Support questions
    • How are questions, issues, and helpdesk requests handled or routed?
    • What is the level of service commitment for the support staff?
    • Do we support the use of end of life products such as SharePoint Designer and InfoPath?
    • What level of site customization do we support?
    • What 3rd party tools do we need, in particular for content management, compliance, governance automation, and forms and workflow needs?
  • Training questions
    • What training should be provided to site owners? Is that training a requirement of being a site owner?
    • What training should be provided to end users?
    • Which tools should be used when?
  • Change management
    • Office 365 can be updated weekly. How do we identify and plan for these changes?
    • How do we incorporate these change management processes into our existing change management framework?
  • Adoption planning questions
    • What are our user adoption goals?
    • What programs or incentives to we put in place to identify and reward key contributors, such as site owners that share their successes with Office 365 with other staff voluntarily.

The list goes on. The sooner you put in place a governance board that is empowered to make decisions on these questions, the more manageable your implementation will be.


  1. Timlin Enterprises has a set of articles on Governance.
  2. Dan Holme runs a class on Governance at conferences globally, for example at ESPC.