Project Governance Models
Project governance is how we make sure the right projects are done, and done in the right way. It’s an important area for the Project Management Office to lead and focus on because implemented correctly, good governance processes support the successful delivery of projects.
However, done badly, governance is seen as an unnecessary overhead and a whole pile of bureaucratic red tape.
The trick is to make sure your governance approach is the right size to perfectly fit what your organization needs. In this article we share our guide to governance models so you can make the right decisions for your teams.
First, let’s make sure we’re clear on the terminology used, because ‘governance’ is a word often thrown about and sometimes misunderstood.
What is project governance?
Governance is a way of making sure projects are run in a structured, thought-through way that delivers repeatable results. Governance provides oversight, control and the management framework for making sure the project is being carried out in a way that fits with the organization’s approach to delivery.
In other words, governance makes sure that every project manager follows specific processes so that they don’t have to reinvent how to get things done. Can you imagine the chaos if every manager was doing something different and team members were expected to use multiple approaches if they worked across projects? Think of governance as the antidote to project chaos!
Where does project governance sit?
Project governance is normally the realm of the PMO. The PMO leadership team will work with executive stakeholders and project managers to determine an appropriate approach to governance for projects.
Typically, the way projects are managed and controlled evolves over time in line with PMO maturity.
What is a governance model?
Project governance models are simply the way the organization chooses to apply project governance. It covers the roles involved in decision-making processes and the processes, policies and ‘internal rules’ around managing a project. It determines the approach to managing, controlling and reporting on the work.
Your governance model is the way you apply an overarching framework of tools, processes, guidelines and systems to oversee how the project is managed. You get to choose what you do and how you do it.
Considerations for project governance models
When considering what project governance model to create or implement for your organization, here are some factors to take into account:
- Project characteristics
- Project roles
Let’s look at each of those and what they mean for your model.
A large project with a multi-billion dollar spend is going to have different monitoring and control requirements to a small project being managed within a single department. The governance model you adopt needs to fit the kinds of projects that you do.
It’s OK to have several models if that makes sense for your business. For example, you could have one set of governance principles that apply to your highly strategic projects, and another for smaller initiatives. Or you could have a model that works for highly risky projects and another that’s used for low risk initiatives.
Think about how the power structures in the organization work. A ‘standard’ approach for governance is to have a project sponsor as the ultimate decision-making authority, supported by a project board or steering group that provides challenge, direction and oversight.
However, if you work in a social enterprise, a public benefit corporation or a firm that works on the principles of sociocracy, you may have a wider group of consultative and decision-making roles. Think about the roles that you would need to involve in making sure projects are being carried out in a responsible way.
Roles are normally documented in a roles and responsibilities document which can also include the structure or hierarchy for the project team.
Consider what processes you need and how they are going to apply to different kinds of projects. Here are some typical processes that support governance:
- Approval for project to begin
- Change control process for introducing changes to the project
- Approval to proceed at specific milestones or at the end of project phases
- Approval process for receipt and sign off on the final deliverables.
Normally, any project process that needs authorization from someone would be considered a governance process – even if it’s the project manager doing the authorizing.
Some PMOs mandate a list of the minimum documentation requirements for a project. Project managers can, of course, create more documents as necessary to keep the project moving forward, but the mandated documents must exist for every project. Some examples that could fall into your mandatory list include:
- Business case
- Project Charter
- Project plan
- Project closure document.
Choose your model
There is no ‘perfect’ governance model as the right approach for you will depend on your organization, the maturity of the team and the culture of project delivery. The trick is to land on a model that offers just the right amount of structure and support while avoiding the perception of bureaucracy.
As for next steps, we suggest a PMO Pulse Check is a good place to start. That will give you insights into how teams are performing at the moment, along with clear guidance on areas for improvement to help you build governance frameworks that will support you for success and grow with you for years to come.