Project Governance Part 1: Non-understood Project Governance

Project Governance Part 1: Non-understood Project Governance

Just about every analysis of project failure has identified lack of senior management commitment as one of the top three reasons for failure.

If you are having difficulty with your Governance teams, it is not surprising. Project Governance is not so much "misunderstood" as 'not understood'. People just don’t know what it is and, therefore, what senior management needs to know or do to be effective.

For example, on one tender, four out of five companies bidding to train executives in Project Governance could not even define it! How were they going to teach it?

A popular stance is that Project Governance is about knowing and asking the right questions. But Governance is much more than just 'asking the right questions'. It involves understanding a range of topics, leading the project/program within and across the organisation, approving plans and other dimensions, facilitating the right resources and more, managing critical success factors, acting and making decisions where necessary, monitoring progress and the external environment, and measuring real progress and results.

It is a significant and specific knowledge set that needs to be learned if it is to be performed effectively.

They have courses for company directors, as they don't expect even experienced executives to automatically know how to govern rather than manage, to advise rather than direct or to lead rather than control. Similarly, you need courses for executives for them to understand and learn how to be effective in project governance.

Governance can be likened to teaching someone to drive -- control of the car (project) is in the hands of someone else, you have to coach, mentor, advise, pre-empt risks, make decisions and direct to ensure you get to your end point safely, but those governing are not driving the car!

Many executives are in the 40-40-20 situation:

  • They know 40% of what they need to know
  • They think they know another 40% -- but this needs to be confirmed or corrected
  • They don’t know the other 20% -- but they don’t know what they don’t know
As a result, they can 'not know' up to 60 per cent of what they need to know. This is a serious knowledge gap. How to govern projects effectively is a topic that has to be learned.

Just about every analysis of project failure around the world has identified "lack of senior management direction/support/commitment/ownership" as one of the top three reasons for failure. (Project manager failure is lower down, around reasons five to seven.) Therefore, this analysis says more projects have failed due to poor project governance than poor project management!

It is time to take action. At least no one questions the need to train project managers. Now we need to train project governance teams.

How does your governance process compare? Tell me

Jed Simms is CIO magazine's project management columnist. Simms, founder of projects and benefits delivery research firm Capability Management, is also the developer of specialised project management and project governance Web site

To read Jed Simms’ previous 7-part series on developing a business case click here.

For previous project management articles by Jed Simms visit How Do You Know if Your PMO is Successful, "PMO: What’s In A Name?" and “The Self Evident Truths of Project Management”.

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