Look up governance in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary and you’ll find this definition “The way that a city, company, etc., is controlled by the people who run it“. This is certainly an appropriate meaning of the phrase when applied to corporate governance, but is not the most empowering vision for how projects need to be governed.
Most staff would view governance as a necessary evil. Governance is a great example of what a lean management professional would call business non-value add – those activities which don’t directly add value to a process but are required for legal or other compliance purposes.
After all, when was the last time you heard a project manager or executive sponsor demand “We need more governance over our project!”?
So long as governance is treated as controls exercised over a project team as opposed to practices supporting them it will continue to have negative connotations.
In many organizations, project governance introduces additional layers of administrative workload for the team in the form of checklists, presentations and formal reviews. It’s common to find financial or other objective-based thresholds supporting progressively greater levels of governance.
This approach generates unintended consequences. Teams and stakeholders chafe over the effort and costs of satisfying complex, onerous governance requirements and sponsors will go out of their way to keep their projects below a threshold.
The issue therefore is not with governance itself but rather how it usually gets implemented.
So what should right-sized governance look like?
- Like good insurance, the perceived and tangible benefits need to significantly outweigh the costs. This means that governance should consume the core deliverables and other outputs of a project rather than requiring the creation or population of new artifacts or systems.
- It needs to take complexity and context into consideration and not merely be driven by project costs.
- It should be exception-driven focusing on tighter management of the few with minimal oversight over the many.
By doing this, project managers, team members and key stakeholders are more likely to welcome governance as a critical ingredient to achieving their desired outcomes rather than an impediment to project delivery.