Project Governance Explained
The term ‘governance’ comes from the act of governing. You’ll be familiar with it in relation to what the government does to run your country, but what does it mean in a commercial setting? And in particular, a project setting?
Project governance is one part of corporate governance. At its heart, governance is about making sure people make good decisions about a project, and that the project is carried out in a controlled way. The governance framework within an organization exists to make sure the business carries out its work to the best of its ability, and in a way that provides assurance to the leadership team.
So what does that look like in practice? There are five elements to project governance.
Governance Guide #1: Implement project management processes
The first element of project governance is to ensure that there are adequate project management processes and good practice in place.
Those processes should extend beyond projects to programs and portfolios too, where you have them.
‘Good’ project management processes could be for iterative, hybrid or predictive projects, an in-house methodology or based on one of the international project management standards for delivery. The important thing is that the way you deliver projects is based on solid foundations and repeatable processes so all project teams have the same framework of best practice to work from. They may tailor the processes to better suit their project, but they aren’t trying to make up a process from scratch every time.
Some aspects of project governance will align with corporate governance and fit alongside those processes. For example, risk governance on a project should align with corporate risk management standards.
Governance Guide #2: Define roles and responsibilities
Second: make sure that people involved in projects, programs and portfolios have clear roles and responsibilities. The goal here is to make sure work is done by suitable, competent members of the team.
You wouldn’t take your car to be serviced by a heart surgeon, and project delivery relies on the same basic principle: make sure people are trained for what you need them to do.
There are many project management training courses that will help your colleagues get better at managing a project from start to finish. Then there are specialist courses that allow you to dive deep into a particular area of project management, like scheduling or risk. Some lead to certification, some don’t.
People who are heavy users of your project management software will also need training so they understand how the tool works. They’ll be more efficient and the data you get out of the software will be of a better quality if they have a good working knowledge of how to use the tool.
While you don’t need everyone on the team to have a certification in project management, those people in key delivery roles should have the training and experience to be able to do the job you are asking of them.
Governance Guide #3: Consider the needs of all stakeholders
The third element of project governance is to make sure all stakeholders’ needs are understood, and that these are kept in balance. You won’t be able to please all stakeholders all of the time – as you’ll know if you’ve ever told a senior leader that their project isn’t a priority right now!
Every stakeholder’s views and projects should be considered equally, and the requirements across the company taken into account for project planning.
Within an individual project, it’s important to recognise that all stakeholders are not created equal. The opinions of high influence, high interest stakeholders will naturally outweigh the opinion of someone who doesn’t have a stake in the end result. However, the process of understanding stakeholders and their views is crucial to making projects work. When you have a good understanding of the stakeholders affecting your processes and project, you can make better decisions about how to engage them with the work.
Governance Guide #4: Monitor what happens
Most people probably think of governance as monitoring what happens, and that is definitely part of your project governance. This element of governance means regularly looking into what actions are being taken to ensure they are the right actions at the right time.
In other words, the more eyes on a problem, the better. The more people checking over what is going on, the more likely it is that someone will spot and feel empowered to speak up about a project that is underperforming.
Monitoring is part of the governance services your PMO provides. Standard project reporting and the oversight provided by the project board or steering group will also help the project sponsor remain confident that the project is on the right track.
Governance Guide #5: Act ethically
Finally, the fifth element of project governance is to act ethically – and to ensure project managers and their teams do the same.
The role of the governance function is to hold project delivery teams to account, and you need to create an environment of transparency for that to have any meaning.
Focus on building an environment where mistakes don’t end careers and project managers feel supported to report problems and ask for help when they need it. Make sure the contracting process is robust so suppliers have an equal and fair chance of winning bids. Project reports should reflect the true position of a project – and managers should have confidence that they are reading the truth. Equally, project managers shouldn’t fear reporting the truth, and should not be asked to hide it from the customer or client.
There are existing project management code of ethics like the one from PMI which you can adopt within your organization if you don’t feel like creating your own. Ideally, the code of ethics for project delivery will stretch far beyond the reaches of project, program and portfolio management and align with corporate values.
You don’t need to have a strong layer of corporate governance in place to implement governance structures at a project level, but it definitely helps! Use the five elements of project governance discussed above to help create your own project governance framework, and reach out to experts if you need support in doing so – it’s far too important to get wrong.