Losing control: what we need to learn about project governance
What does an overdue baby have to do with project governance? It teaches us that control is not micromanagement but responsiveness and good decision-making.
Her baby was due on Anzac Day. No, not the Duchess of Cambridge’s daughter, but a friend of mine’s first child. He was running late—not a good look for the son of two journalists. I had to fly to Singapore the day after the due date, so I sent her a message from the airport joking about her teaching her son about deadlines and when I landed back in Australia after a week I assumed she’d had the baby and was exhausting herself doing all the things new mothers do.
Nope. Ten days after due date her son finally arrived, happy and healthy, a relief for two parents eagerly anticipating their first child and slightly anxious after all the waiting.
Last week I had the pleasure to attend the Project Governance & Controls Symposium, a two-day event focusing on the often forgotten aspects of projects, the things that keep them on track. The speakers kept bringing up one point, which I thought particularly pertinent to my friend’s situation, which is: governance is not about controlling the project but about monitoring the project and having the right information to make the right decision about it at the right time.
Just like my friend’s baby, if the project runs over schedule but is otherwise healthy and delivers all the outcomes and benefits you set out to achieve, then of course we can wear that. If there are complications, however, then our governance mechanisms should prompt us to make new decisions and give us options for recovery. For a baby, that might be induction; for a project you trigger your contingency plans (you do have contingency, right?).
Why are project controls still being discussed when it’s the bread and butter of running a project? Admittedly it’s less sexy than other parts of the project—initiation and closing out, for example—and having the training and tools does not necessarily mean your organisation has the right culture to do governance well.
It turns out we still need to advance our understanding of project governance and controls; just like the process of having a baby, a healthy pregnancy could be the key difference between a successful or unsuccessful outcome and we’re still learning new things every day.