Separating project managers from governance decisions
I wrote in an earlier blog about automating governance, an article very much focused on tools. As a follow-up, I thought it worth mentioning a whitepaper Core Consulting recently published on Improving Project Governance. This whitepaper coincided with an industry breakfast forum we hosted where a panel of experts debated a number of issues relating to project governance. The whitepaper looks at a recent Victorian Government Ombudsman’s report on ICT projects and we think is a great summary of the Governance recommendations from that report.
Governance, like risk, is one of those classic areas of project management where many people know the theory and can talk the talk. Unfortunately, when you look at what people are actually doing on projects, you realise few know how to put that theory into practice.
Key points made by our recent governance panel were:
- Applying project governance, people must be willing to say no and/or kill off projects, otherwise what’s the point?
- Governance on a project isn’t something you do after you start the project, putting governance in place is part of starting up a project.
- Governance continues throughout the project lifecycle, continually re-assessing the investment and benefits.
- With reference to the project manager’s role in governance, opinion varied. Ethics and accountability were key discussion points.
- Engaging executives who aren’t overly interested in governance is tricky: risk minimisation is the best arguement to use.
- Governance on projects involves people, so behaviour, incentives and consequences are important.
- A ‘steering committee’ shouldn’t be a ‘listening committee’.
We often say in our training that governance is about the ‘should we?’ decisions. Coming back to point 4 above, it’s an interesting question regarding the project manager’s role.
My opinion, which could well vary to others, is that the project manager might well attend a steering committee or project board meeting, but they have no vote. It is not up to them to make the critical decisions. The project manager must refer the ‘should we?’ decisions to the authorised decision makers. This is particularly difficult when the project manager has a firm opinion about what they think the right approach should be.
A mature project manager will ensure their opinion is heard, but then defer to the authorised people to make the decision. Should we initiate the project? Should we continue the project? Should we change the scope (and hence budget)? Should we go live? Should we accept and close the project ?
In this context the project manager’s role, with respect to governance is a facilitation role. They need to ensure there is an appropriate governance structure in place (e.g. PRINCE2 model), ensure responsibilities are clear and are accepted, ensure they are well informed and have all the facts plus analysis to make a decision, ensure they meet regularly and finally facilitate if necessary to ensure a decision is made.
So that’s the ‘why’ and the ‘what’ of governance. The ‘how’? That’s the tricky bit.