Project Governance

Project governance is a waste of time. That’s what I used to think. Rules for the sake of rules, and no practical point to them. Governance just gets in the way of project delivery. That’s what I thought.

And in a small company with limited oversight, and a tiny IT department with only a handful of stakeholders, it was possible to implement projects with only basic governance as long as the plans were sound, and properly communicated. And there’s the rub. Once you start to work in a larger organisation with complex reporting and many stakeholders, as well as a requirement to prove that the project has been run under proper control, it becomes patently clear that the “small company” way of doing things simply cannot work. Worse that that, these “light touch” processes are scarily dangerous in a large organisation, putting the organisation and the project at risk – and by extension, the project delivery organisation too. Yes, I am a convert to proper governance processes.

So, it I have changed my tune over the past few years, what in particular do I now do differently?

  • Documentation: In a big, geographically diverse organisation, effective communication is not possible without proper documentation. The spoken word gets lost, or mis-heard, or misinterpreted. Or forgotten. Or ignored. You need to write down what you want, what you need, what you have done, and why you did it. And make sure you are not the only person who can find the documentation!
  • Formal reporting: In a big company, the management tiers are far more extensive than in a small one. Consequently, you can’t rely on “bumping into the bosses in the corridor” to let them know how the project is going. Write it down, and pass it on.
  • Proper change management: It’s not enough to agree to a change, because if you do, and you have not kept all of the stakeholders informed, some of them won’t know about the agreement. And they will therefore continue on their merry way, in blissful ignorance. That’s bad enough if you are the instigator of the change. But what about those occasions when the change is done to you, rather than by you, and you don’t hear about it until you have wasted days or weeks of your time following the wrong track? Not a pleasant thought, so do as you would be done by!
  • Scope of work: This applies to the total scope of the project, and each person or team’s individual role within it. All too often, scope grows without control, or responsibilities are not clearly defined and “willing horses” end up agreeing to take on actions that should lie with others. Either way, good quality governance processes protect the project from uncontrolled bloat – and hence cost and time overruns – or from blame being levelled at the wrong people when things go wrong. I’m not advocating the “blame game” – far from it – but I am all in favour of protecting the innocent and ensuring that each person knows what he or she is responsible for.

So, these are just my basic reasons for using proper governance, and they make perfect sense to me, now that I have worked in teams of more than a handful of people. So, in a small company, should I ever find myself in that environment again, would I do things differently? Oh yes. Most certainly. Governance would certainly be improved, and so would a lot of the planning and control that tended to be done almost as an afterthought.

Oh dear… how the last three years in the bank have changed me!

Iain Millar, 02 December 2014

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