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Getting a Grip on Governance

As a programme and project manager, particularly in large matrix organisations, one of the things that used to drive me mad was the lack of joined up governance for projects. I know I'm not alone. Whenever I've been involved in organisations improvement initiatives, this is a regular bugbear across delivery.

Project managers, who are often juggling multiple projects, have to undertake a myriad of reviews, complete multiple status reports, and submit to random, often unsolicited, data requests, and run the gamut of Delivery and Quality Assurance audits. In the worst cases I've seen, an individual PMs can lose as many as 5 days a month just providing data and sitting in review meetings, often saying the same things to different groups of people (and sometimes exactly the same people!).



Now, I'm not advocating that anyone should stop performing reviews or monitoring project status. That would be a violation of lots of things I believe in, and probably commercially suicidal. But I do believe that organisations can get a lot smarter in they way they perform their governance, freeing up people's time, reducing the burden on projects, and adding genuine value to the organisation as a whole.

In a many typical organisations the project is answerable to external and internally facing governance. The client or business wants to know how their money is being spent and when they can expect delivery, and the delivery organisation needs to understand how to manage its people, IT assets and other resources. These aren't unreasonable expectations.

What's unreasonable is when the balance shifts from a need for information to help run the business to a culture of interference, where indirect stakeholders start demanding their pound of flesh. Where bean counters get notifications from monitoring systems and demand answers as to why variances are exceeded and expect solutions to be implemented by yesterday.

Quality boards and risk review boards are set-up in addition to the weekly, monthly and quarterly status review boards. Red and Amber projects find they are spending more time explaining their status than being able to fix it.
Ultimately, the project managers spend their days repeating the same things to the same people time and time again. And the majority of the people listening are not actually in a position to do anything with the things they are told, let alone provide help to the beleaguered projects.

The sticks are all sharpened ready for the kill, but there isn't a carrot in sight.

When an organisation has a systemic problem with delivery it seems that the usual way they go about fixing it is to add more and more layers of governance. It's as if talking about it often enough will make the problems go away. A smarter fix might be to review the entire governance process, streamline it and only involve people who can provide assistance and solutions, rather than add to the problem.

Joined up governance means looking at how automated monitoring systems can be used intelligently and incorporated into standard reviews. It means looking at the people who need to be involved in those reviews, what preparation needs to be done (in my experience people just turn up and fire high level standard questions at the PM), and what the expected outcomes are going to be (a completed review checklist is not a satisfactory outcome!).

This is really an ideal role for a pro-active PMO, that acts as a conduit between the relevant stakeholders and the project. Indirect stakeholders (should there still be any need for them) should be able to get information from the PMO rather than the PM. (If the relationship between the PM and the PMO becomes imbalanced, e.g. when the PMO starts to become a self serving force, this must be redressed - see my 2008 article Project Management Office - Master or Servant?).

As part of the change to governance, it's an ideal time to review the measurement systems in place. Projects are often challenged as to why data differs across different systems. The better question is why data is being captured in multiple systems in the first place as it clearly introduces scope for error - see my 2010 post When Measurement Programmes Go Viral.

Project and programme oversight shouldn't be rocket science yet many organisations have governance systems that would not look out of place in mission control. As spring starts to take hold this year maybe it's time to take a good look at your existing governance and see where it can be cleaned up, simplified and ultimately become a valuable tool rather than a weapon to be deployed against project teams doing their best to deliver real value to the business.

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