Sunday, January 12, 2014

Good things come in threes...

There are certain topics that I've historically given a wide berth to. Project governance is one of them. It's too easy a target, too contentious and every one has an opinion on the matter. Here's mine.

One of the things that's constrained having any sort of consistent dialogue / vehicle / entry point (delete as appropriate) via which governance is (or ever could be) dealt with in projects (and programmes) is the lack of a unified consensus.

Well, you ask, what does that mean? Good question. If you asked 10 project managers what do they understand to be implicit in the term project governance you will (I hazard) elicit a variance in the responses that is extremely difficult to unify. You could even swim into less certain waters still by asking "What are the hallmarks of a well governed project by comparison to a poorly governed project". Could anyone be confident of any kind of spontaneous consensus?

The splenetic Steve Jenner (who will I hope overlook any referencing of his words in deference to my describing him as splenetic) offered that "...governance is the job of defining what decisions are made, by whom, when and to what criteria...". I remember feeling a sense of overwhelming gratitude to Steve for having (I felt) pinned the tail onto the donkey quite so precisely, succinctly and without apparent contentiousness.

But then, you've also got corporate governance, IT governance, data governance and quite a bit more besides.

...and that's just the different areas of governance. There are different approaches to governance such as collaborative or multi-stakeholder. And then of course there's applying both the required area of governance (say Project Governance) to (say) an IT Project in (for instance) a multi-organisational project. Oh, and just in case that wasn't enough - how about meta-governance - the governing of governance. (I do yearn for a bit of this now and again mind you).

Incidentally - just in case you were about to yawn and look for your entertainment elsewhere since this wasn't a terribly interesting topic, consider for a minute a project in which the wrong decisions are made, by the wrong people, at the wrong time and to the wrong criteria. Does this sound a bit more engaging now?

Like any project manager faced with unmanageable levels of complexity I revert to the mental state of a 3 year old, effect a brief but meaningful inner tantrum and cling to the mantra - surely there is a simple way of ensuring that tomorrow is better than today.

...and of course, there is.

Simple step one to improving governance today

Documented process is an enabler (dependency?) for improving governance. So, in the very simple situation below we have an input, a decision and two possible outcomes. We have a decision point, some inputs (criteria) and presumably a forum or framework in which that decision will be made. Sounds a bit like we're half-way to something Steve Jenner might just suffer to include under the heading of governance.

Simple step two to improving governance today

Create a register of all the formal documentation to be produced during the course of your project / programme. Include information about who is going to produce it, who is going to review it, who is going to sign if off and who is going to own it going forward. And, any schedule information for when this documentation will be created. Publish this register to appropriate stakeholders (and in many instances this will simply be all of them).

This resource, at a glance, allows a range of stakeholders to discern what documentation is to be produced (and what documentation isn't), by whom, when and who is (and isn't) involved in review and sign-off.

Simple step three to improving governance today

Create and publish a product breakdown structure (PBS). Derive from this appropriately detailed product descriptions and keep these someplace useful (say a product dictionary - a.k.a. an Excel worksheet. This is very much the same carry on for step two (which applies specifically to documentation) but in this case we're looking at specific project deliverables (which may or may not be documents).

This resource, at a glance, allows a range of stakeholders to discern what products are to be produced (and what products aren't), by whom, when and who is (and isn't) involved in review and sign-off.

And that will do won't it? No expensive management consultants. No particular undue stresses and strains. Not even a requirement for the oversight of assurance satsumas mandarins - just a bit of practical elbow grease.

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