If project governance is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ requirement for project success, how can organisations ensure they have the right type and amount of governance?

Good project governance is a critical factor for successful project delivery, however, what constitutes the ‘right’ type or amount of governance is often overlooked. Many organisations stick to rigid models of project governance, irrespective of the type, size and risk profile of a project.

The problem with this approach is project governance is not a one-size-fits-all consideration and often issues arise with projects being either over or under-governed.

Either of these circumstances can adversely impact the successful outcome of projects. So what are some of the steps to consider when establishing a successful governance model for a project or program of work?

Understand the Project Risk Profile

Risk is often the key factor for determining the amount of governance a project requires.

Risk comes in many forms. Projects could have a high-risk profile due to:

  • large cost;
  • complexity;
  • the amount of transformation and change they are driving into a business or the potential risk to reputation if the project is unsuccessful;
  • or a combination of all of the above.

During project initiation, this risk profile should be understood by the sponsor and project manager and factored into the project governance that is established.

Clear Terms of Reference

Often project governance can seem like just going through the motions. Whilst the terms of reference of a governance committee and the accompanying roles and responsibilities may state otherwise, the general criticism from both sides of the table is an over-emphasis on reporting or providing general updates as opposed to genuinely ‘governing’ the project.

Project reporting is important in governance, meetings also need to focus on decision making and escalation forums should enable the project to be successful.

Ensure the terms of reference are correctly established to reflect this then ensure the members of the governance committee adhere to them.

Are the Right People in the Room?

We hear this time again and irrespective of the subject matter, governance is only as good as the people executing the terms of reference.

Make sure the members of the governance committee have the right job titles and/or delegated authority and ensure that they are willing to exhibit and model the correct behaviours.

A good starting point is to dedicate the first governance meeting to walking through the terms of reference of the committee and the roles and responsibilities of each member.

Don’t assume everyone in the room knows why they are there or what is expected of them.

…and Do They Have the Bandwidth?

Senior managers only have a finite amount of time to discharge both their BAU and project responsibilities. The time constraints of senior managers are a significant hurdle that should be factored in when selecting the members of a governance committee.

Whilst someone may be the right person to be on a governance board from a job title perspective, if they do not have the bandwidth to devote to the role it may be a better option to find someone else.

Persistent non-attendance or lack of engagement from a committee member should give pause for thought to potentially replacing this person.

Be Prepared to Manage Up

A good project manager will know when the governance of their project is sub-optimal. They can either accept this fact and the issues it will cause their project or they can manage up and try and get the project governance the project requires.

Be confident to manage up in this situation. Raise the concerns with the sponsor and or directly with the committee itself. The first casualty of poor project governance will not be the committee but more likely the project manager!

Fit-for-Purpose Governance

Very few projects can be successful without sound project governance. Whilst the points in this article are not exhaustive, they do provide a good checklist of what to look for when establishing fit for purpose project governance for a project.

Project governance is a nuanced beast and rarely a one-size fits all process. Take the time to ensure the governance for your project is sufficient and if it is not, be willing to call out when the governance may be failing the project.

The governance committee will thank you in the end.

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