What is Project Governance?

Glen Alleman, as he often does, gets to the nub of things with his latest blog post, citing a quote from Nassim Nicholas Taleb.  Glen concludes this short post with the statement: ‘the primary role of project management or engineering development – Make decisions based on evidence in the presence of uncertainty’.

By coincidence, I spent a large chunk of yesterday preparing for a training workshop. One of the things I wanted to do as a part of my preparation was to nail down a strong working definition of ‘good governance’.

As always, I started with my extensive collection of dictionaries. A summary of what that taught me is:

“Governance: The action, manner or system of governing”

The dictionary is pretty useless for understanding governance, although we do learn that the word govern comes from gubernare which is the Latin for the verb to steer. So I came up with a definition of my own, which captures the essence of my own thinking about good governance:

“Good governance is the systematic application of good judgement”

This goes to the heart of Glen’s point and to the points he has been making a lot lately – and, importantly for me, to the heart of one of my client’s questions; about the use of Agile methodologies. And that is this: however we choose to manage our projects, our selection must be driven by the imperative to apply good judgement throughout the project process.

Over dinner this week with two former colleagues – both eminent project management professionals in London – we discussed when Agile works and when it is mis-used: either because it is applied badly (often with poor governance) or applied when it is the wrong approach.

I used to use the line:

“Project governance is about proper oversight and sound decision-making”

I don’t think that was wrong, but I think governance needs to start with the choice of project and the choice of project approach and so, I would now say:

“Project governance is about project specification,
proper oversight and sound decision-making”

Put another way, “the systematic application of good judgement”.


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