10 Things you can do, to Get Project Governance Right

You may feel that strong project governance is not for you. After all, it’s not that big a project, and setting up governance structures is time-consuming and maybe costly too. But there’s an old adage:

“If you want to really understand the cost of doing something properly, look at the cost of doing it wrong”

Okay, so I may have made that old adage up myself, but I am pretty sure there is one quite like it that I couldn’t find (if you know it, I’d welcome the help in the comments section below).

Anyway, size of project is a poor indicator of the value of good governance: a better one is the impact of success – or failure. High impact projects and changes merit greater scrutiny to ensure you get them right.

And I don’t accept the assertion that good governance needs to be either expensive nor heavily time-consuming. It is a matter of choosing the right components of governance for your project and your culture. Here are ten simple and highly time/cost-effective ways to strengthen your project governance.

1. Start with a Business Case

Ensure that the business imperative and investment appraisal are properly documented and signed off. If you will rely on directors, managers or officers of your organisation to deliver some of the planned benefits from the changes or products your project creates, state this explicitly in your business case:

Mr/Ms A is responsible for these actions […]
and therefore for creating this [£xxx] benefit

Now create real commitment: print off a specimen copy and have each Mr or Ms A sign against their responsibility. Make this a Board paper at the highest level of your organisation and schedule dates at which the Board will review outcomes.

2. High Calibre Project or Programme Sponsor

My friend and colleague Ron Rosenhead is a co-author of Strategies for Project Sponsorship – the first book I am aware of to start to examine the roles of project sponsors in practical way. There is lots of good advice for sponsors and project managers, but the whole topic needs to start with organisations valuing projects enough to allocate the best people to oversee the most important projects, and to support and train them to discharge their role. To date, only four (very fine) organisations have commissioned me to train project sponsors – among many hundreds for whom I have trained their project managers. What does that tell us?

3. Decision-making and Oversight

The two core project governance roles are decision-making and oversight (choosing the right things to do and making sure they are done right). For bigger projects, no one sponsor has all of the skills to carry out all of this. There are two scenarios, depending upon the way your organisation chooses to impose accountability:

  1. The sponsor carries all of the responsibility for these two, but needs to draft in a governance body (project board, steering group, executive committee) to support them
  2. The sponsor does not have the clout to exercise full responsibility and sits as one member (maybe the chair of) a governance body (project board, steering group, executive committee) that makes the decisions and carries out oversight

Either way – select the members of your governing body with care, to ensure all of the skills you need are present and everyone has the time and commitment to put in the work. The illustration below is taken from my recent book, How to Manage a Great Project.

Project Governance Roles

4. Clear Roles and Responsibilities

Every key player or governance role needs documented and agreed roles and responsibilities. For a small project, this could simply be a short listing, emailed from the Project Manager to the Sponsor, for their agreement by email. There are sample role descriptions for you to download from the resources page of my Manage a Great Project website, under Step 3.

Sample project management role descriptions

5. A Structured Induction for Team Members

Oh, how I hate the word induction in the context of what we should just call ‘welcoming’ team members. (Let’s save the word induction for use by electrical engineers and obstetricians). Whatever word you choose, welcome new team members, set out their responsibilities, show them the ropes and set-up any training they need. If this does not sound much like governance to you, remember, that governance means steering: the kubernator of an ancient Greek trireme was the steersman.

6. …

Hold your horses; that’s enough for one week. The next six things you can do to get project governance right will be next week.


3 thoughts on “10 Things you can do, to Get Project Governance Right

  1. Matthew Squair

    Mike, as I see the intersection of governance with projects.

    The act of governance can be partitioned into two aspects, firstly the more general governance imposed by (for example) the corporations act upon the directors in a business and secondly the operational governance that is required to establish, demonstrate and maintain compliance with (for example) industry legislation (such as the Rail Safety Act) or more general legislation (such as the Workplace Health and Safety Act).

    Underpinning these two elements are two quite different views of government the first is viewed as a positive enabler to the strategic performance of the enterprise on behalf of those it serves or affects, the second as a protective measure to address the agency-principal problem, e.g. the potential for divergence between the interests of management and that of the shareholders or stakeholders in an enterprise.

    Both these viewpoints on governance are applicable to the conduct of projects by an organisation. In the first an organisation is concerned that the expended resources will achieve it’s strategic objectives. In the second, any organisation embarked on a major project has essentially placed a large chunk of it’s resources into the hands of a small group of people, in some cases a single project manager, and should be concerned that the interests of the project remain congruent with those of the wider business. Ensuring that both these issues are addressed adequately is of course critical if the project is to achieve the enterprise and stakeholders expectations.

    1. Mike Clayton Post author

      Thank you, Matthew, your distinctions are helpful. In the article, I was taking a more generic view of governance as being about ensuring the sponsoring organisation’s interests are properly served by the project or programme, as you also suggest in your last paragraph.

      Your distinctions would allow a project team to tailor governance activities to each of the priorities your distinctions imply, although I suspect that many activities will serve them equally.

  2. Pingback: New PM Articles for the Week of January 27 – February 2 | The Practicing IT Project ManagerThe Practicing IT Project Manager

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