Is governance now a dirty word?

May 5, 2023

The other day, I explained the importance of project governance to a non-IT person. When their eyes stopped glazing over, they asked, “Why can’t you choose a better word?” As it turns out, governance is seen as a silver bullet for all sorts of corporate sins. Is the company underperforming? Just blame governance. Want to force an issue to the forefront? Governance is the go-to weapon. But let’s get real. When businesses use governance as a quick solution rather than a way of adding value, it’s like trying to realign a broken leg with a band-aid. You’re not going to fix anything.  

So, what is good project governance?

It’s equal parts nurture and discipline

Being on a project governance team is like parenting. You’re not there to be your child’s best friend. You’re there to guide them on the journey of becoming a fully-baked adult. You set boundaries and give instructions to make sure they stay on track. 

Let’s bring that metaphor into the realm of project management. If the governance team’s scope, delivery approach, communications, roles and responsibilities are followed, that’s when the magic of growth (or, in this case, the desired outcome) happens. Conversely, breach those boundaries, and like an errant child, it will likely result in tears – and ultimately project failure. 

Lean on the three main pillars of project governance

  1. Efficiency builds an understanding around ‘cause and effect’, giving you fast decision-making and a steadfast focus on achieving the desired outcome. 
  2. Accountability sets the ground rules and provides traceability of actions and clear roles and responsibilities. 
  3. Legitimacy provides the mandate and confidence to act. 

Actual governance is about saying no

It always surprises me how often businesses take on ego-driven projects rather than strategic ones. But what’s the point if the project doesn’t support the company’s mission and goals? ‘No contingency’ is the most significant sign of too much ego (or optimism), and I see it a lot. Nobody has bothered to specify the best and worst-case scenarios – or even put a plan B in place. More often than not, no one is comfortable asking questions. But when projects are inherently risky, they should be treated as such. A good governance team will be able to see when there’s no tangible benefit, and they’ll have the courage to say no. Finding the sweet spot is critical – you don’t want it to be too heavy or burdensome, but you also don’t want it to be too light and impotent.

Find your ‘unicorn’ governance team

If you’re sick of nasty surprises, project governance might be the issue. The fix is simple. You need better people – a group of unicorns.

An effective project governance team (or steering committee, if you’re averse to the g-word) helps guide the project and the business. It’s not there to hold hands or worry about hurt feelings at night. It ensures every dollar spent ladders back to the organisation’s strategy. 

How do you carefully construct a functioning and influential steering committee for project success? It all comes down to the people you choose. 

Align or fail

If your project steering committee isn’t aligned on the business problem that needs to be solved, the impact of that problem on the business and the vision of the desired outcome … then you shouldn’t start the project. It’s that simple.

What’s more, you must choose the right people with the right EQ, personality type, skill and will to get the job done. That includes a project manager with sufficient experience, capability and maturity to agree and maintain alignment with the governance team. The most successful project managers are people who read the room and have the emotional intelligence to see early when certain people or groups are misaligned. 

Governance for governance’s sake can suffocate a project. It’s critical to regularly re-calibrate a governance forum to ensure the project is always getting the right type of governance in the right areas. Wait too long, and critical decisions get delayed. Meet too often, and you force your project team into a constant state of collating and reporting that can impact the focus on project deliverables. 

Governance – it takes the A-team

Once you understand that governance is a crucial enabler for successful project delivery, it will be your project’s most precious resource. Find your unicorn team, and those people will align delivery capability with organisation strategy. They’ll also build the capability of your people to align your projects, programmes or portfolios to support better business outcomes. 

Projects require big decisions. Projects demand constant monitoring and guidance. Projects naturally come with a lot of pressure and a lot of heated discussions. That’s when emotions run high.  If  you’re ready to apply the good-parenting playbook to your governance team, the team at Luminate has the experience and EQ to defuse emotions with facts.  

After all, your project is too important to have the ‘B team’ running it.