One of the traits of a good project manager is their ability to make effective use of governance processes and structures – both those setup specifically for their projects and those that operate over all projects.
So how can you do that?
Know the rules! One of my favorite quotes from The Matrix is Morpheus’s guidance to Neo about the rules within the Matrix when they first square off within the training construct “Some of them can be bent, others can be broken“. Just like Neo, it will take you some time to learn where flexibilities exist with organizational standards and policies, but you can reduce this duration by being well apprised of the written rules and knowing what flexibilities exist. One example of this might be a progressive project funding model – while that is usually instituted to reduce sunk cost, there is also an incremental cost to the project team for submitting progressive funding requests, and on smaller projects, it might be better to explore whether the governance committee is willing to approve full funding up front.
Remember Goldilocks! Too little project governance isn’t desirable. Decisions might get made fast, but they will also get reversed just as quickly, and you are likely to run afoul of one or more influential stakeholders. Too much governance will mire your project in bureaucracy and will generate unnecessary waste. Just as a well designed solution architecture is critical to having a successful agile technology project, spending the effort up front to design a well thought out governance process and supporting structure will avoid unnecessary rework later on.
Change is the only constant in the universe. Just as your relationship with a pet dog will evolve over time as it matures from a puppy to an adult, governance practices and groups also should change. A highly involved steering committee might be necessary in the early stages of a project as scope, approach and key structural decisions are being made. But once the team is busy delivering to approved baselines, there may be no further need of such a steering committee and it might be perfectly reasonable for them to disband.
You might be wondering how should I apply these suggestions?
When in doubt, seek counsel from other project managers in your organization who have a successful delivery track record – chances are, a key contributor to their success was the ability to effectively leverage governance.
Effective project managers are able to exploit governance like a guard dog to protect them and to keep their projects healthy. It doesn’t attack them or lead them astray because they understand it, respect it and know how to work with it. Weak project managers are afraid of it – instead of focusing on how it can help them, they end up letting it dictate where they go for a walk instead of their providing that direction. Be a governance whisperer!