In the second episode of Quay Conversations, Rod and Bec talk about governance, accountability, and the risks of a good news culture.

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Perspectives from the Quay Bulletin


Rod Adams | Co-founder of Quay Consulting
Rebecca Bennett | Co-host

REBECCA: So today we’re going to explore the governance, accountability, organisational culture and particularly the risks of a good news culture.

ROD: Sure. OK.

REBECCA: So you’ve been working in and around governance for most of your project management life and we’ve talked a lot about the inherent risk in projects and programs. So what is it about governance that is so valuable and yet so challenging for organisations?

ROD: Well, governance in a project perspective is essentially the head of the fish. It sets the tone for the project, which in turn sets a lot of the outcomes. So, you know, the old saying the fish rots from the head is very relevant to what you’re talking about governance, because it actually will dictate the way in which projects will be delivered and it will dictate certain things that are a little bit nebulous, like you mentioned, like collaboration and transparency.  And even trust to a certain extent.

REBECCA: Can we look at how critical it is in driving change into an organisation because most projects and transformation programs are about delivering some form of change, whether it’s driving new technology in, whether it’s restructuring a business, whether it’s delivering some BAU upgrades. Let’s talk about that and why governance is such a critical part of that success.

ROD: Well, the governance for a project will ultimately dictate the quality of the outcomes. So it doesn’t actually matter what type of change you are trying to drive. If you don’t have the right governance or you have the right governance, but you don’t have the right people involved that respect that governance, then you’re rolling the dice around a lot of your outcomes.

REBECCA: So how do you ensure that you are adopting the right level of governance into a project or program? What’s your starting point for understanding what framework needs to be?

ROD: Well your starting point’s always got to be focused on your outcomes. What are the outcomes of projects is trying to achieve? The more critical the outcomes or the higher risk the outcomes to the organisation, then the greater level of governance that’s required and also the greater the seniority of the people involved in the governance need to be.

REBECCA: So in terms of who gets involved in defining governance for projects, who’s typically driving the governance process?

ROD: Well, there’s a couple of different ways to do it. Most large organisations will have a project management office and they’ll typically have governance frameworks. And at the initiation stage for a project, you’ll often play that project or that business case back against the governance frameworks from the PMO. So that will give the project manager and the sponsor some indication about what level of governance and who needs to be involved is appropriate for that project. But also individuals can drive the governance. The sponsor or the CEO or whomever might be above the sponsor might dictate that the project has such a profile in terms of criticality that it might need additional governance or particular players involved that normally wouldn’t be involved. So there’s no hard and fast rules about how the governance for project will be set up. But there certainly is a basic pathway to identifying what is the appropriate level of governance for a project.

REBECCA: What role does organisational culture have in the governance project? I mean, is it an important lever in setting up the governance structure or is it more setting the time for how projects get delivered?

ROD: That’s a really good question. Culture is everything in terms of effective governance. Now, culture isn’t necessarily, to your first part of the question, the culture of an organisation doesn’t necessarily dictate what type of governance is set up for a project, but it absolutely dictates the effectiveness of that governance once it’s set up.

REBECCA: So how do you navigate around things like some of the political challenges or the cultural and challenges that might inhibit or benefit setting up effective governance? Particularly where you have a large organisation with a lot of dynamics in play?

ROD: Well, first and foremost, you need to make sure the structure is fit for purpose. That’s working with project professionals within the organisation. It’s probably working with the research department. It’s probably working with the CFO and the CIO at a higher level just to make sure that for certain projects the right structures in place. But then when it comes down to selecting the right people to be part of that governance structure, then making sure they behave the way that they need to behave, that governance structure to be effective, that is really the kicker, because it’s much easier on paper to draw up a governance structure that looks fit for purpose.

It’s another thing entirely to make sure that the people that are involved in that governance structure are actually doing their job and that that speaks to culture. It speaks to if the organisation has a culture of accountability. If the organisation has a culture of no good news or bad news, just news. If the organisation has a blame culture. If some of those things are falling on the debit side in terms of not being very good, then your governance potentially is not going to be effective when managing projects.

REBECCA: You mentioned accountability. So from that perspective, given what we spoke about in the last episode around Victoria and the hotel quarantine challenges that they’ve had, what’s your view on governance in that context?

ROD: Accountability can’t just be for Christmas if you like. Accountability needs to be real. So if within the governance structure you are identified as accountable for a particular outcome, then that needs to be taken seriously and the person that is identified needs to be truly accountable. What we’ve since found is the governance structure.

ROD: So what was on paper, the investigation was unable to discern exactly who was accountable for a critical decision, which was to hire private security guards to look after the quarantine hotels. And that’s okay, because your governance structure isn’t always going to be 100 percent spot on. It is then brought to life by interviewing the key players within the governance structure. And that didn’t shed any more light on who was accountable. So when the senior execs were questioned, nobody stepped forward to take accountability. And then we had a situation where they were claiming that the actual decision was made just by a creeping assumption, which is a new term to me. And no doubt a new term to a lot of people in the project world.

REBECCA: In this particular context, what does it do to the ability of the executive to be accountable when they’re not getting the right information to make those decisions?

ROD: Well, that’s always a problem when you’re not getting the right information, but it is the responsibility for the exec within the government structure to ask the right questions and to seek the right information.

It actually isn’t acceptable, and it isn’t good governance for anybody to say simply, “Oh, I wasn’t told.” Proper governance requires people with inquiring minds. And if they are accountable for something, if the information isn’t being provided to them in the right format, in a timely manner or with the veracity it needs to be, then it actually is incumbent upon them to go and source that information if they are doing their job properly. It’s simply not good enough to say I wasn’t told.

REBECCA: So do you find that generally speaking – and I know that’s a pretty broad basis to ask the question – but do you find that generally most execs want the truth or do you find that in a lot of organisations it’s about having good news? What are the benefits of delivering bad news and how do practitioners get the balance right between managing information flow and ensuring the people get the right information at the right time?

ROD: Well, the benefits of receiving bad news is you can actually fix problems. You can head risks or significant issues off at the pass. The more you stick your head in the sand and reject receiving bad news … Bad news doesn’t get better with time, it only gets worse. So it actually inhibits your ability to fix problems, which inhibits the ability of the project to deliver the benefits that it’s trying to achieve. So it’s just kicking the can down the road and sometimes it’s leaving a mess for somebody else to clean up.

REBECCA: Just on the flip side of that perspective. What happens when the executive is open to having good news, but they’re not receiving the whole picture. So, for example, they may not be sure that they’re getting all the information from their teams – good, bad and ugly.

ROD: If the organisation has a culture of good news only from the top that permeates right down through the delivery chain. Good operators might end up in these organisations and after a while they’ll end up leaving. Because if they’re forever being caned for delivering the honest truth and if it’s perceived to be bad news, if that ends up with a bad outcome for them, then they’re not likely to stick around. So you actually end up you create the culture and then you attract the people that will thrive in that culture. So if the culture is a good news culture, only, then you end up with project delivery teams that are quite happy just to deliver good news only and it will adversely impact your project outcomes pretty much every time.

REBECCA: I think one of the examples you’ve given is a new CEO coming into an organisation, being told that all the projects are green, that the dashboard is telling them that we’re on track. But then as he dug a little deeper and understood what was really going on, he suddenly saw a sea of red, but that it also had a set of consequences that ended up costing the business an awful lot to remediate. Can you explore that example a little bit, just to really illustrate the impact of good news, only?

ROD: I’ve seen example where an organisation had over 200 projects on the go, which is not unusual for a big organisation. And when we investigated those projects and and asked for some self-assessment, every one of those projects was green, which is completely unrealistic. And the incoming CEO was acutely aware of that. What it actually means is if every project is reported as green and every project only delivers the good news, then the exec actually don’t know where the problems are in the delivery slide and they don’t know where to get involved from a governance perspective, to remove roadblocks, to make critical decisions, to keep projects on track.

ROD: Then it just becomes completely random about how projects ultimately get delivered. What happened there ultimately was the incoming CEO had to spend quite a lot of time…. It wasn’t so much about identifying individual projects to fix… It was more around changing the whole culture of the organisation and the delivery teams to not be afraid to deliver news that they thought was going to be poorly received and was bad news.

REBECCA: So is this possibly where in that kind of scenario a review tends to be on the table, whether it’s a post-implementation review or a health check or something along those lines becomes beneficial to mapping the way out of that type of situation.

ROD: A review whether its point in time health check, Gateway review, post-implementation review… Reviews are only as effective as the ability or the desire for the exec within the governance structure to. Save the truth or hear the truth, some of it will be negative. Now, if the exec within that government structure have no appetite whatsoever to hear anything but good news, then a review will ultimately be a waste of time because…. We’ve had situations where we have done reviews and then it’s turned into hand-to-hand combat to actually get the review presented in a format that needs to be presented because the delivery teams are so used to only delivering good news. When they get confronted with news that they perceive to be bad news, then they will fight tooth and nail to stop that news from being delivered

REBECCA: Which is where you find anxiety or roadblocks tend to creep into the review process?.

ROD: I talked about the fish rotting from the head. It’s the culture that the exec have created within the organisation. It attracts people that thrive in that culture and they know how organisations roll. So they know that if they present negative news, that will be poorly received. Now sometimes you have people within the governance structure that absolutely want to hear all the news, good or bad. But because the culture of the organisation is potentially just a good news culture, then they get frustrated because the only information they get fed is the good news, because that’s what the people below them think that’s what they want to hear.

It is a sweeping generalization, but there will be pockets within organisations that really promote a good news culture that are trying to fight against it. It happens on both levels. It happens where people down below try to present the full picture and that gets rejected. But then there’s also people up above and the governance structure that actually want the full picture and all they’re ever provided is the good news or sanitized versions of the truth.

REBECCA: So is this where an independent arbiter or an honest broker, if you will, becomes a valuable part of your governance and review structures?

ROD: Yeah, most definitely. Self-assessment is always fraught with risk. Doesn’t matter what the pursuit is, it is always good to have independent people that can come in and review projects no matter what type of review it is. That level of independence is critical to make sure that you get to the bottom of what’s going on. But it may appear on the surface that a review is independent when in fact, when you look a bit deeper, it’s not. And probably the most recent example of that would be the Clayton Utz/AMP review that went through, I believe, twenty twenty five iterations. That’s a hell of a lot of iterations for an independent review.

REBECCA: And then ultimately went to ASIC.

ROD: And when that got investigated, ultimately, it wasn’t perceived to be independent at all because there was multiple connections with the reviewers back into AMP,

REBECCA: Which is where it comes back to the question of when is independent fully independent?

ROD: Yeah. So in that situation, there was an absolute question mark about whether Clayton Utz were indeed independent and then there was just the pure mechanics of it. Normally when you do an external review, you give the project manager and the sponsor look at a draft, you take their input and feedback and you update the review, but you never actually change the findings.

You might change some of the contextualisation of how you presenting information, but to have a review that is actually reviewed by the client twenty five times is extraordinary, not just from a process perspective, but also from a cost perspective. I think the review ended up costing over a million dollars and some of the interventions through the review were the subjects actually suggesting things to be taken out and things to be put in, which completely destroys the independence of the review

REBECCA: And the credibility of the exercise…

ROD: And the the veracity. And so all of those things were unpicked by the inquiry and people were held accountable and people lost their jobs and reputation. The reviewer came off looking very poor, as did the exec within AMP at the time,

REBECCA: Bringing it round to what’s happening in Victoria at the moment with the review of what has happened with the quarantining process. And ultimately, the health minister was the scalp for the situation. Looking at that, they’ve been forced into a review by circumstance and  a situation that has unfolded. Do you think that the veracity of that inquiry is going to lead to a better information flow or better governance structure going forward?

REBECCA: I mean, we’re likely to have the virus, which this for quite some time.

ROD: Look, I think it will. But what’s interesting about the health minister falling on this sword is their parting words were, “I’m resigning, but I did nothing wrong. And I actually take no accountability for these decisions.” That’s a really strange outcome, because if you actually resign once something’s been called out, you would expect that as part of that resignation, you would say “Ultimately I was accountable.’ But the closing press statement actually says, “…Well, I’m resigning, but it actually had nothing to do with me.’ And the other thing that was most interesting around that review and talking about accountability is everybody said that they knew nothing about it, just simply didn’t know. And that comes back to the governance structure, the flow of information.

ROD: Now, it’s not out of the question that the culture within the Victorian government is such a good news culture that the bureaucrats only ever deliver good news and that’s become ingrained in how they operate. So part of me thinks that the execactually do have a leg to stand on by saying we were never told anything. But if they were actually doing their job properly within the governance structure and they were taking ownership for accountability, it is a requirement of their role to actually go and seek out the information and ask the question. It’s simply not good enough to say, well, nobody told me That’s not true accountability. That’s actually pushing the accountability right down the chain to a very low level. There are all sorts of forums within a government structure which enables the senior exec to ask questions and seek information. I completely get they may not have been told the information, but they were accountable to ask the questions and they should have asked questions. And it’s right across I think there was five agency heads that were ultimately interviewed, right up to the premier, and all of them just basically said the same thing that they were never told. But they should have had an inquiring mind and they should have been asking.

REBECCA: If it’s incumbent on leadership to be accountable, how can they cultivate a culture where brave-smart conversations can happen, where it’s safe to deliver bad news, good news,  indifferent news, that they can then ensure that layer of accountability exists?

ROD: To my mind, it comes down to a maturity at the leadership level to actually be mature enough to gather all the information, good or bad. If the leadership don’t have that maturity and they operate in a knee jerk fashion, then that is going to be reflected in the information there ultimately and the information that is provided if people are forever getting caned for providing information into the governance structure of a project that is perceived to be bad news. As I said earlier, ultimately good people will leave that organisation and that culture will start to get ingrained.

It actually is up to the leadership to lead properly. And part of leading properly is to be completely open to what is happening around you, to your organisation or to your business, and have the confidence to hear all the information good, bad or otherwise.

REBECCA: In your journeys through the governance and assurance and building cultures that allow these things to happen, do you have an illustration of what that kind of leadership actually looks like?

ROD: Well, it looks fantastic, but yes, it very often what it looks like is a leadership team that’s focused on the ultimate business outcomes and a leadership team that is pragmatic enough to know that not everything is going to be perfect. And a leadership team understanding that projects and business endeavors are full of assumptions and sometimes assumptions are proved invalid. And it just comes back to, you know, the good news or bad news. Good organisations will pivot. They’ll make an assumption proved to be wrong. They’ll gather all the information they need together, and then they’ll take a risk based approach to the next decision. And then they’ll pivot.

REBECCA: So circling back just to the point you made about assumptions, there. Assumptions are … Perspectives, experience, looking at the scope of the project and then making some decisions about what we think is going to happen. At what point should organisations look at those assumptions throughout a project?

ROD: Well, normally when you establish a project, you do a number of things. You do a risk assessment. You should also, during establishment of the project list all the assumptions. And some of those assumptions, if proved invalid, might be a significant risk to the project. So they might be wrapped up in the risk register. What needs to be understood is the impact of those assumptions on the project outcomes, if they prove to be invalid. For example, nobody, you know, six months ago would have been setting up projects and making assumptions around a global pandemic, because there’s some things that are so far outside of the whole Black Swan theory that you wouldn’t even bother planning for.

But there are definitely assumptions that be contained within the project in terms of the project outcomes that will need to be made and validated. And then you continue on with those assumptions. If they’ve proven valid, then you actually need a culture, you need the governance structure where you can raise those those invalid assumptions, which now might be issues, so that can be addressed. You don’t just need the structure. You also need a culture that is open enough to surface that bad news and have it dealt with. And have it received the right way by the executive.

REBECCA: If you have someone or several people starting to flag outsized risk, things that you don’t normally expect in a project or that you’re not expecting because you haven’t seen it in this organisation or you haven’t seen certain types of assumptions being shown as invalid, if those voices aren’t being heard or they’re being downplayed and that risk actually eventuates. How does an organisation deal with that?

ROD: Well, again, it comes back to the culture. If it’s a good news culture, they’ll just let it roll. So some organisations actually can’t deliver projects effectively. They’ll deliver things into production that haven’t been properly tested, are not what the business wanted in terms of business requirements. You will have a working population that’s forever frustrated with the processes and tools that they’ve given to do their jobs. And nothing changes. And some of those organisations continue to despite themselves to be successful for whatever reason. Other organisations will suffer financially and often they will they’ll, you know, continue to operate but there’ll be a huge opportunity cost around the opportunities that they’ve missed because they haven’t been able to innovate and they haven’t been able to streamline and they haven’t been able to pivot to make the right decisions.

So there are knock on effects if you can’t surface all the news to deal with it. But if that’s the culture of your organisation, then your organisation will in the end suffer some adverse effects. It can often be very hard to quantify those adverse effects and things just continue on as they were. Probably the main thing is the opportunities missed and they are always hard to quantify.

REBECCA: In times like this where we have a pandemic and it is putting a blowtorch to the feet, so to speak, on a lot of organisations, some of those good news challenges and risks and elements that haven’t been dealt are studdenlyt the fore. Do you see organisations recalibrating how they evaluate risk or how they evaluate their governance to allow for unexpected scenarios we’re finding now, for example, when organisations are having to adapt around managing the health and well-being of their staff against an infection that is under control in Australia but elsewhere, is running rampant?

ROD: Look at it’s really difficult to say because a lot of organisations are in a holding pattern. And and what they’ve done is they have stopped a lot of projects because it’s seen as discretionary spend. And what we’re seeing is a lot of projects are, as I said, in that holding pattern, waiting to see what comes next. And I don’t think anybody’s going to really know what comes next until some of the significant government assistance that all organisations are getting, like JobKeeper, stops.  I think then we’ll know what the commercial world actually looks like and then that will in turn impact projects, because that’s going to impact strategy and what changes organisations need to drive.

REBECCA: So if leadership wants to set an example of what a news culture looks like or what the relevant information at the right time looks like, what are the actions they should be taking to make sure that that is understood by those who are delivering projects and sharing information upwards and downwards in the project?

ROD: Well, the first thing I need to do is not cane somebody for delivering bad news. That’s a very powerful message to send and what it sends to the delivery teams. It should be the message that we want to hear the honest truth. That’s the first thing they can do, is the moment they receive bad news is to treat it responsibly and in the way that it’s meant to be delivered, which is here’s a problem. We need help with this or we need a decision.

REBECCA: From your experience, do you have an example of what that actually looks like?

ROD: Yeah, we work on a project where the design actually wasn’t going to work and it was being driven by SMEs who actually didn’t have the capability to identify or understand that the design wouldn’t work. And they also suffered from, I guess, hubris for want of a better term, where they weren’t willing to take feedback from SMEs. So one of the things we had to do was to escalate to the exec that the design wouldn’t work.

The exec didn’t actually want to hear that, except for the sponsor who explained to the exec within the governance structure that actually makes no sense to continue investing in the project with a design that won’t achieve the outcomes. So whilst it was rocky at the time, it was the right thing to do to surface that situation and allow the project to pivot. If we hadn’t surfaced that and had the difficult conversations and they were difficult, then the project would have continued to consume resources and ultimately it would have failed.

REBECCA: So what was the risk in that project in just delivering bad news?

ROD: Everybody else delivered bad news has actually been removed from the project. So we didn’t let that bother us because ultimately we were accountable from a project management perspective to identify all the risks and issues. And there was clearly an issue with the designnce once we’d taken some instruction and input from some SMEs. We fully expect it to be removed from the project. But ultimately we were kept on. And in a candid moment, what the sponsor shared with us some months afterwards was the reason we were kept on was they were of the opinion that we could be trusted to be honest brokers from a project management perspective. And that was far more important to them as sponsors than just trying to deliver good news into the governance structure to make the project and the sponsor look good.

REBECCA: Do you think that in a project scenario or the steerco, cultivating trust and cultivating accountability run parallel to each other?

ROD: Yeah, absolutely. There’s no doubt that the trust works both ways. The exec within the governance structure need to trust the project delivery teams that they’re going to get the right information at the right time. And the project delivery teams need to be able to trust that they can deliver that information and not get hung out to dry if it’s perceived as bad news.

REBECCA: And can that cascade down to the creative teams and across the culture of the organisation if they can say that leadership is actually walking the talk?

ROD: Yeah, and leadership need to walk the talk. They can’t be baking project managers because they’ve had to deliver some bad news. They need to be transparent and honest and cool-headed in how they approach that bad news. What you end up with, if an organisation has a culture of good news and it can’t accep accept bad news, you end up with a lot of projects that should have otherwise been stopped that will just continue on and never have any hope of really delivering the project outcomes that they meant to deliver.

REBECCA: And I suppose that if some 70 percent of projects actually tend to fail, it would suggest that not a lot of organisations are reflecting enough on the value of bad news.

ROD: No, they’re not. They’re not. Bad news, put simply, is providing the exec within the governance structure all the relevant information for them to make better decisions, to keep the project on track. Hoarding bad news, all it does is it limits the exec having the opportunity to fix things. And a good example is a project that we did a review on where there was significant bad news that had been buried around how the users had received the new system and only came to light four or five months afterwards. And what the CEO said at the time is they weren’t upset that the project hadn’t been accepted by the business the way everybody said it was. What they were upset about is if they had been alerted to this four or five months earlier, they would have had the opportunity to fix the problem that the can have been kicked down the road. A small problem had now become a much, much bigger problem,

REBECCA: Which would in effect have a significant cost impost.

ROD: It had a huge cost impost because there was four months worth of unresolved issues that had backed up in the system that required a small army of temps to come in and fix. And the CEO’s point was a valid one. If you had told me about this four months ago, we actually could have addressed it. And the way the project manager and the sponsor, because they were both involved, the way they delivered the good news was they excluded business change from the change stream.

ROD: And they said, well, no, no, no, we were just doing a technical component of the project. We actually weren’t embedding the business, change the change into the business, which comes back to scope. And it was self-serving. And if you had to look at all the project status reports, the change stream was green the whole way through. So the way they justified it to themselves of not surfacing that bad news was they had mentally de-scoped it from what they saw as their accountability for the project, and that allowed them to continue to deliver the good news with a straight face, if you like.

REBECCA: Going back to governance and accountability, would a PMO or other mechanism have improved or facilitated that information flow or would it have been….?

ROD: Well, no, because in this situation, the PMO… They were part of the culture and they were part of the good news culture. So the PMO actually weren’t fulfilling their role effectively as a quality assurance. They were also bought into delivering good news as well.

REBECCA: From your perspective, you had a lot of background in developing and establishing and evolving PMOs for this particular scenario, could the PMO that was already established have been involved or it could it have been refocused?

ROD: Because the culture of good news was so ingrained in the organisation it had infected the PMO for want of a better term. The PMO was bought into only delivering good news as well. If you just did a review, a desktop audit on the structure of the PMO, you would have seen an assurance arm and you also would have seen a panel of independent reviewers.

But if you went down to the next level, what you would have found was the PMO that was ineffective because culturally it was trying to just deliver good news and it was trying to protect the projects and give them the ability just to deliver that good news by not holding them to account. It comes back to the culture of an organisation around good news and bad news, and it comes back to an exec that wasn’t driving the right culture or setting the right examples.

REBECCA: It brings us back to accountability and accountability in all ways in an organisation. If the different layers aren’t seeing accountability in the various operational levels across the project, what can individuals do to surface what they’re seeing and what can they do to engage with the exec to say, hey, we’re saying this is a challenge. How can we have a brave-smart conversation around remediating the lack of accountability at this level so we can make sure you get what you need to make the decisions to make?

ROD: Well probably all an individual can do is display the right behaviours. Now they need to display those behaviours with no expectations, because if the culture of accountability is so poor within an organisation, you can’t expect one individual to change it, particularly if it’s driving from the bottom up.

But sometimes people will see those behaviours on display and it can catch on, but ultimately is very, very difficult for a single individual to change anything meaningful.

REBECCA: So if we’ve got good players in a project, people who are seeing these challenges, who are recognising and trying to remediate where they can be capable of leading some degree of remediation?

ROD: Yeah, they are, but they need to stick with it. You need to get your project hygiene correct, so you need to document everything and you can’t be dissuaded and you can’t be disheartened. You just need to keep knocking on the door. You need to be attending the steercos and fighting the good fight for what’s right with the project. And there are times that that can catch on. And it’s not out of the question that within an organisation, some areas deliver projects much more successfully than others because the culture was in that part of the organisation allows for a lot more accountability and transparency.

ROD: So you do need to keep fighting the good fight. But you also need to be pragmatic enough to know that sometimes cultures don’t change. And despite what you do as an individual, you can only affect so much change.

REBECCA: So turning that on its head and looking at it from a leadership’s point of view, if they do see and can recognize that there are players who are fighting the good fight, what can they do to elevate that awareness to the steerco, what can they do to champion change?

ROD: Well, the first thing I’d look to do is do a stakeholder assessment. It’s pretty simple. You do a tick-cross-neutral. So it’s tick for stakeholders are on board and are looking to be effective. It’s a neutral for somebody that’s neither here nor there in terms of what’s going on. And it’s a cross in terms of a stakeholder that through how they view the project, they’re going to be blockers or maybe through their behavior, they’re going to be promoting a feeling of a lack of accountability, that stakeholder assessments are critical in terms of how the governance is set up and approached because project managers do have a certain level of influence around what a governance structure will look like.

My advice always is you want to move the ticks into double-ticks, if you like, so  they are they are really positive influences. If you can move across the neutrals to a tick, that’s good. But if not, that’s okay. Now, the crosses… Best case scenario, you neutralize them. Worst case scenario, you ring-fence them. And what I mean by Ring-fencing is you do your very, very best to put a fence around them and cut them out of the whole governance once and for all, because they’re either going to exhibit the wrong behaviors, which is going to impact the project, or they’re going to actively look to undermine the project.

REBECCA: So circling, back to a point you made earlier in our conversation around the maturity. Does it take a mature organisation in terms of projects to recognize that they need to do these exercises? Or is it something that they may recognize we have a problem? Let’s bring someone in who can help us evaluate where we actually are, who needs to stay,  who needs to go and how we manage those risks?

ROD: Well, for a delivery perspective, mature organisations should be continually assessing the success of their projects and they should be recalibrating how they’re doing things to derive better outcomes. And if that means that a certain part of the business or certain execs, have been proven to not be able to understand what true accountability means, then they should do something about it. And what’s probably worth noting, Bec, is there’s no barrier to entry to become a sponsor. You find a lot of sponsors come to projects potentially with zero experience around being a sponsor and they actually haven’t been interviewed with that in mind.

ROD: They’ve only been interviewed in terms of their line management expertise and general management and project sponsorship are two very different things. So you can have the immaturity of sponsorship can absolutely play into things like accountability and how project outcomes are ultimately achieved.

REBECCA: So this brings us back to accountability and governance as being an essential anchor points for a project or transformation or any form of change being set up for success.

ROD: Yes, it does. And inexperienced sponsor who doesn’t understand accountability for an organisation that looks to dodge accountability through various mechanisms, will always have an adverse impact on a sustained project success for that organisation.

REBECCA:  So there’s been some really good insight around accountability and culture here.

ROD: And if you look at some of the things that are happening around the world at the moment, if that culture or a bit of that culture was on display down in Victoria, for example, then there might have been a very different outcome.

REBECCA:  That’s it for today’s Quay Conversation. If you found today’s episode useful, you can find the show notes on our website and you can subscribe to the podcast by searching for us on your favourite podcast. Thanks for listening.

Quay Conversations is produced by Quay Consulting. Our theme song is Trumpet Funk by ColorThemeMusic. You can subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher.

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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 ...