How can organisations design a fit for purpose governance structure for a large program?

It’s one of the most effective steps you can take to set up a transformation program for success but there is no silver bullet or standard template to follow.

So how should it be approached?

We need to start with the objectives of good governance in mind. An effective governance structure does the following:

  • Defines the relationships between all internal and external people and groups involved in solution delivery and business implementation activities
  • Describes the proper flow of information between all participants and stakeholders
  • Ensures that appropriate review and management of risks and issues is undertaken
  • Ensures that required approvals and direction for the program is obtained at each appropriate stage and in a timely manner
  • Ensures that quality is embedded in program processes

The purpose of this is to provide a decision-making framework that is logical, robust and repeatable to govern the program with the ultimate objective of ensuring its success.

Clarity in decision-making rights

It follows that, when drawing up an appropriate governance structure as part of program setup, establishing clarity with respect to decision-making rights is paramount. Part of this is ensuring that the roles and responsibilities of the Sponsor, Steering Committee, Program Manager or Director, Working Groups and various streams of work are explicitly defined. More importantly, however, these roles and responsibilities need to hang together as a logical whole.

In other words you need to stress test your governance in action – how will different decision-making scenarios – from solution delivery and business implementation phasing to the development of strategic communications messages, to day to day coordination of activities – work in practice?

Control versus autonomy

You also need to keep in mind what the program is trying to achieve when striking a balance between control and autonomy. Is it a transformational program in which you require creative solutions developed for seemingly intractable business problems? If so, you need to allow more space and autonomy for your experts to do their thing.

If on the other hand, it is not intended to do anything particularly new and innovative – a system upgrade for example – then you will want to exert more control to ensure that cost, time and quality constraints are adhered to. In the former, managing by exception is more appropriate. In the latter, more regular inspection of progress and results needs to be built into your governance approach.

Cross-functional integration

Large programs inevitably involve cooperation and collaboration between a number of organisational functions including IT, products and services, finance marketing, sales, and so on. Your governance structure, therefore, needs to drive cross-functional integration at multiple levels both strategic and tactical.

At the strategic level the Steering Committee needs broad representation from all impacted areas and participants need to be senior enough to ensure the following:

  1. Quality decisions are made for the program
  2. Alignment of the program with strategy
  3. Alignment of the program with organisational policy, including HR, IR and IT policies
  4. Successful program delivery
  5. Benefits realisation.

You also need to be clear about what the Steering Committee is responsible for achieving including:

  1. Representing stakeholders groups impacted by the program
  2. Providing support and direction so that the program outcomes are achieved in the best interest of the business
  3. Providing support to the program in obtaining and retaining the required project resources
  4. Reviewing and determining any escalated variations to original scope, budget or schedule
  5. Assessing critical escalated issues and high-impact risks and providing direction and support for corrective action
  6. Identifying other initiatives across the organisation that could impact or be impacted by the project.

Don’t forget the soft stuff

Because transformation success is dependent upon people and high performing teams, good governance is deeply concerned with modelling desirable behaviours including:

  • Demonstrating integrity, ownership, dedication
  • Building and leveraging social capital – trust, morale, passion, commitment, motivation, courage, resilience, and knowledge – by showing interest and fostering empowerment, creativity and openness
  • Conflict management and negotiation

These principles – and any other important values – need to be explicitly called out in your governance charter.

Choice of sponsor

Finally, getting the right sponsor in place can mean the difference between success and failure. The sponsor should be the person who is most directly connected to the business area that will derive the most benefit from the program. This ensures alignment between operational and program spans of control and that the right incentives are driving the Preview program toward success.

As project specialists, we develop fit-for-purpose strategy.  Contact us here to find out more about how we work with your teams or call 02 9098 6300.

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Quay Consulting
Quay Consulting is a professional services business specialising in the project landscape, transforming strategy into fit-for-purpose delivery. Meet our team ...