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Straight Talk on Project Management

IT project Governance

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IT Project Governance ‘as a Service’? Enabling, NOT Limiting Successful Outcomes

When you hear the word “governance” – what’s your gut reaction?

In several conversations and communications recently, governance has been getting a bit of a bad rap. In fact, if you pushed me to offer one word that summed up the perception of governance it would be “bureaucracy”.

No-one likes bureaucracy.

Bureaucracy leans into a world of red tape, limited freedoms and less flexibility, stilted activity, nanny-state, etc.

I guess, from an early age, governance is tied up with government, acts of parliament and laws, rules and restrictions. In the USA, Governors are often crusty elders responsible for implementing state laws, in the UK we’re educated in schools that have boards of governors who steer the school’s policies and if a parent had a problem with the school, you’d write a letter to those governors!

Maybe governance needs a make-over or a rebrand! School governors and parliament are rather fusty associations!!

To me, governance is not that though. I’m writing this on a train, if this train were an IT project, governance would be the track that leads the train to my station, the published timetable that keeps it on schedule, the signal box that flips the signals to green and aligns the points with the train’s direction of travel. Governance gets you where you want to be!    

QUIS CUSTODIET IPSOS CUSTODES?

IT Project Managers are the gate keepers of their projects, standing guard against all that can derail the progress of those projects – the buck stops with you, right?

“Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”, is a Latin phrase meaning, “who will guard the guards themselves?” I came across it on an office wall poster of a PM friend.

The poster reminds my friend that governance is what keeps the Project team on the straight and narrow, governance guards the guards or, in our case, manages the managers!

In recent years, there has been a noticeable shift towards strong project governance. ROI (return on investment) has never mattered more, room for error is shrinking, and fractions of percentage points shaved off intended business outcomes can literally be the difference between success and sinking, a super focus on governance gives projects the transparency that organisations need.    

EFFECTIVE GOVERNANCE LEADS TO SUCCESS

Increasingly, governance is cited as a major contributor in less than successful project execution and the root-cause of project failure. But governance seems to mean something different in each case and project teams are often caught trapped searching for a repeatable governance model that also has the flexibility to be applied to different projects and their diverse needs.  

The PMBOK® Guide defined project governance as an “oversight function that is aligned with the organisation’s governance model and encompasses the project life cycle.”

There’s a lot of gold in that sentence, so let’s take a moment to unpack it.

Firstly, “oversight function”, your project needs accountability and assurance that proper steps and protocols are taken throughout its life cycle.

Secondly, “aligned with the organisation’s governance model”, your project must co-exist within the overall structure of the entire business or organization.

And thirdly, “encompasses the project life cycle”, governance must apply to the entire time the project is active. No ifs, buts or maybes, governance doesn’t take a day off!

Success is inherently tied up in everything highlighted bold here, that governance delivers repeatable success is an escapable truth.  

IN REALITY – WHAT DOES PROJECT GOVERNANCE MEAN?

Project governance is at the heart of the key elements that lead to project success but as we’ve established, it isn’t an off the shelf, oven ready, one-size-fits-all thing. Project governance has to be tailored to meet the specific needs of your organisation and the intended project outcomes.

In a PMI White Paper, Salina Sandra Alie, writes, “There are eight components that must be considered. These components will influence how you create and implement as well as monitor and control the governance framework on your project, program and even portfolio.”

The eight elements are:

1 – Governance Models – The project governance framework

2 – Accountability and Responsibilities – Definition of roles/responsibilities

3 – Stakeholder engagement

4 – Stakeholder communication

5 – Meeting and Reporting

6 – Risk and issue management

7 – Assurance

8 – Project management control processes

That is a pretty cool list of attributes and put this way, it’s kinda hard to argue the case that governance is just rebranded bureaucracy. By the way, in her white paper Salina Sandra Alie brilliantly illustrates how these elements fit within that PMBOK® Guide definition – a recommended read!

Hopefully, we’re starting to agree that governance is a facilitator, not inhibitor of project outcomes – a bridge not an obstacle.   

GOVERNANCE – LIMITER OR ENABLER?

Was that your initial feeling when you read the word – that governance was an obstacle?

Try this thought experiment, I tried it with my “governance = bureaucracy” minded associates, with noteworthy outcomes.

Picture this. On the M1 Motorway, near Stoneseed, there’s a variable speed limit stretch. Some days you can zoom through at 70mph … other days the overhead gantry will flash 60 or you may be forced down to 50, even 40mph. And … there are enforcement cameras along the variable stretch to ensure that you stick to the speed displayed. That’s a great metaphor for Governance. Now, onto your perception of this …

You’re flying along the motorway, cruise control set to 70mph, sun shining, your favourite music blasting out of your car radio – the overhead gantry tells you to slow to 50 – how do you feel?

Held up? Limited? Inconvenienced? 

Then, you get through the variable section and the overhead signs return you to the national speed limit, but you haven’t seen a single reason for the speed limit change, no accidents, no roadworks – nothing! How do you feel now? Cheated?

If you’re of the “governance = bureaucracy” mindset, chances are you felt mild annoyance at the initial speed restriction and utter contempt at the lack of evidence for its existence in the first place.

So, what is the purpose of the variable speed section?

Interestingly, when I put this question to “governance = bureaucracy” squad, they replied, almost word for word, that it was there to restrict your speed. On the motorway, this very visual form of governance was there to slow things down, they said.

And, if you were visualising your speedometer dropping by 20mph as you applied the brakes, flashing your hazards to warn motorists behind them – you’d probably agree.

I’d argue the opposite. I believe the variable speed section is there to enable speed, not limit it.

That 20mph drop is designed to facilitate your faster transit through the variable zone.

Imagine a horse was loose on the carriageway, or a lorry was having a tyre changed taking out a lane, or (as happened once) a moped with learner plates had accidentally entered the motorway? If three or four lanes were to converge on an immovable or unpredictable blockage at once, and at speed, the result could be a pile up – all traffic reduced to 0mph.

Advising motorists to adjust their speed to suit the conditions ahead allows everyone to safely change lanes and get through in a timely manner and at an appropriate speed.

What a great outcome! That’s what good governance delivers.

THE GOVERNANCE PARADOX: REPEATABLE PROCESSES, METHODOLOGIES AND TOOL SETS THAT ARE TAILORED PROJECT BY PROJECT 

And that’s what great IT Project governance is all about. Rather than restrict the speed you’re going at, IT Project governance enables your organisation to reach the desired outcome in the fastest time and the safest way. But it’s different in each of the scenarios I mentioned, a loose horse and an HGV having a tyre changed might call for different speed reductions – the lorry is unlikely to buck, run across the carriageway and clear the central reservation if you drive past it at 50mph! So, the repeatable framework of reducing speed when there’s a hazard is customised depending on what the hazard is!    

One of the greatest struggles teams face is that every project is different but with commonalities that can span the portfolio. So, when it comes to governance, do you re-invent the wheel project by project or go for a one size fits all? Either can be costly!

When project governance is made more intuitive and smarter, it is also made easier.

GOVERNANCE AS A SERVICE?

Sharing this blog with a client for feedback, it was pointed out that Stoneseed, through our Project Management as a Service (PMaaS), actually provides Governance … as a Service!

At Stoneseed, we know that you are not the same as your leading competitor, often the tiniest idiosyncrasies are what create the greatest difference – your USP. Why should your projects not be the same?

Stoneseed’s PMaaS reflects this in the approach taken towards project delivery (the methodologies) – we will never advise based just on what happens to be the latest trend, or what worked well for a previous client.

Stoneseed’s methodology will always be the best fit for you – but at the same time we won’t reinvent the wheel each time at your expense. Our three pillared approach to IT project resourcing can bring tailored governance to your projects:

  • Pragmatic– the methodology deployed is always fit for purpose. It aims to provide the right amount of governance, balanced with the need to deliver the project outcomes – we don’t implement process for processes sake
  • Based on experience– our team are vastly experienced in the delivery of projects and project-based outcomes.  The approach utilises this experience to ensure that projects are delivered in the most effective, efficient and controlled way
  • Repeatable– we aim to transfer the skills and knowledge we have in Project Delivery to your onsite teams so that they too can deliver successful outcomes in the future

For me, in a sentence, governance is choosing what to do (aligned with regulations, culture, etc), saying what you you’re going to do, doing it and then being able to show that you did what you said you’d do and how you said you’d do it.

You should hear the passion in the voice of Stoneseed’s Professional Services Director, David Cotgreave, when he talks about governance. David will leave you in no doubt that governance is one of the foundations for success that underpin the best performing Project Management Office (PMO).

At the heart of every successful project team, that PMO is ensuring well defined processes, planning, forecasting, project resourcing, and governance. It’s invaluable link between your business strategy and project delivery and governance is what steers it all forwards.

Governance never sounded sexier!


Find out more about Project Management as a Service from Stoneseed