Warning signs of weak project governance

safetynetWe all recognize the criticality of effective project sponsorship. The selection of the right individual for the role and an onboarding process to help them properly fulfill their responsibilities can increase the odds of project success.  Sponsorship is a key component of project governance.

Project governance does not end there.

There are always going to be project decisions which a sponsor won’t be able to make on their own. A common example of this is a funding request which exceeds the financial authority of the sponsor. Sponsors may also be unable to unilaterally make decisions or remove hurdles which impact functional areas outside of their jurisdiction.

What does overall governance effectiveness & efficiency even mean?

A well designed, properly implemented governance framework ensures that project decisions are made in accordance with organizational policy and that they fit within the organization’s risk appetite. It ensures that these decisions are made with minimal wasted time and effort such that project flow is not impeded. Good governance is also there to act as a safety net for issue resolution such that hurdles which impede a project and which can’t be resolved at the team level are dealt with in a timely fashion such that project impacts are minimized.

So how can you assess if your project’s overall governance process is both effective and efficient? How do you know that you’ve found the sweet spot between too much process and anarchy?

Here are some symptoms of governance gangrene which could help you make some immediate improvements or could at least help you to identify lessons which could be applied to future projects.

Frequent reversal of decisions. While this is sometimes caused by excessive multitasking or making decisions prematurely, analysis of reversed decisions may reveal insufficient engagement of the right stakeholders when decisions are first made. Thorough stakeholder analysis and consideration of broadening the governance safety net may be one way to reduce the likelihood of this.

Excessive effort spent on administration or documentation supporting decision making. If more effort is spent on supporting the decision making process than coming up with the decision recommendation itself, that’s often a sign of a bloated, wasteful governance process. Process analysis to determine non-value add steps could help to lean governance out.

Decisions or issue resolutions are chronically late with measurable impacts to the project. If death-by-committee is causing decisions to be made long after the time when they should have been made, an assessment should be conducted to determine if the processes are too complex and can be shortened and if not, is there a way to move up the timing for when decision requests are submitted.

Governance committees never evolve beyond the storming phase. It’s a good practice to establish a steering committee or advisory group on large, complex, cross-functional projects, but if there is no one supporting them through Tuckman’s stage of team development, your project could end up falling victim to long standing executive personality clashes or organizational turf wars. A strong sponsor can help in such cases by acting as an informal coach to the committee.

Blessed with a good sponsor but cursed with ineffective or inefficient project governance?

Diagnose it, or you might be humming “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.”

Categories: Project Management | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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