The Principles of Effective Project Governance…Fail to Prepare, Prepare to fail

Whilst the definition of project governance may be considered vague, its importance in underpinning solid project delivery is much less vague.

“Governance” is defined as the structures and processes that are utilised to ensure accountability, transparency, responsiveness, stability and broad-based participation.

Adding “project” to “governance”, the definition fundamentally seeks to address the connection between internal governance and the achievement of the intended objectives of a project, programme or portfolio of work.

Whilst many sources exist regarding the core principles of effective project governance, the following are largely commonplace in most practical environments and adhering to these principles will help bring organisations to a successful level of structured project governance.

  • Involve senior managers – Senior managers are the decision makers, and such initiatives should encourage their input and buy-in
  • Prioritise governance goals – Reduce complexity, confusion, and conflict by selecting the most appropriate goals
  • Assign ownership and accountability for project governance – More than an individual, a select group of experienced resources should be assigned to deliver, monitor, and control any governance initiative.
  • Design governance at the portfolio, program, and project levels – Consistency and synergy lead to adoption and successful implementation
  • Provide transparency – Visibility is vital because it builds confidence and understanding of the process
  • Learn, and then adopt any redesign – Governance is an evolutionary process. Learn from mistakes and new or improved knowledge
  • Educate and be educated – It is important to review and analyse new and improved governance mechanisms and debate their appropriateness
  • Integrated planning – Ensuring projects are well planned will be the foundation for progress reporting, but can also hardwire the discipline of talking to other work streams and projects by integrating plans and tracking dependencies
  • Expert change control – Inevitably your programme will not operate in a vacuum and will have to adapt to the changing external environment, technical issues and moving user requirements. Therefore providing clear boundaries as to when to approach sponsors, escalate concerns or get change approved in a considered process is essential
  • Adaptable progress reporting – It is visibility that will give the programme team and the organisation a sense of control. Standardisation and automation of reporting is good but having centralised ownership through a PMO will give consistency whilst providing a hub of information creating insight, foresight and flexibility in reporting
  • Proactive risk management – More than just stage gate compliance, the programme needs to establish a strong culture of identifying, reporting and tracking risks and issues in a way which crosses project and work stream boundaries and creates practical mitigations
  • Business strategic fit – At a portfolio level programmes and projects should be prioritised to align to strategic business objectives. However once in flight, particularly larger projects, should continue to regularly check back to organisational priorities to ensure that the benefits and outcomes being pursued are still relevant

Ultimately, there is a fine balance between being overly bureaucratic and having dangerously absent governance. The key is to ensure visibility, responsiveness and strategic direction enabling adequate support for your project delivery environment.

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