To control and operate any organisation policies, procedures and processes are used to direct and control operations and ensure outcomes are met. Project Governance is a framework made up of certain corporate governance functions and practices that have been tailored to the Portfolio, Program or Project requirements. It seems like a simple concept however in most project audits you will see at least one finding on governance failure or risk where governance processes and controls were not evident or deemed effective enough.

The internet is littered with examples of project governance frameworks or structures as well as case studies on where project governance failed so we won’t spend more time going back over that well-trodden path. Instead we’ll focus on some key governance concepts that, if followed, can set up your project for success. Don’t forget – Project governance processes, like any process, require iterative improvement over time so don’t just ‘set and forget’ during the early stages of the project lifecycle.

Definition: What is Project Governance?
Definition of Project Governance

Processes, roles and responsibilities

Project Governance is a framework of interrelated processes that are run during a project lifecycle. However, importantly it is also a structure of roles with responsibilities to facilitate, oversee or complete steps within these processes.

Risk and Controls

All projects have an inherent risk which, with the effective use of controls, can be reduced to a residual risk which is within appetite. Given most projects have a moderate too high (or even extreme) inherent risk, think of Project governance as the integrated processes and controls that can mitigate the risk and better assure the outcome. These concepts are important when we look at risk management and, most importantly being audit ready (which will be covered in a separate topic).

Setting up for success

When setting up your project governance consider the following to help guide you:

  1. Understand your corporate governance model and risk appetite. The project governance framework should be able to integrate into the corporate governance model easily. Understanding risk appetite (i.e. how much risk can your organisation afford) will allow you to set your Project governance at the right level.
  2. Your Project Portfolio Management (PPM) structure and data model. Every layer in your PPM hierarchy will need to have individually tailored processes that integrate with each other and will need to allow for common data attributes to be used in reporting.
  3. Define your methodology (e.g. Agile, Waterfall, Rolling Wave to name a few) and delivery method, reference or framework (e.g. PMBOK, Prince2, Scrum, Kanban etc.). You may have more than one across your portfolio but depending on what these are, you will find ready to use information on industry sites to help you set up. A common mistake is to set up a one-size-all governance framework but that will almost certainly result in process failures (remember the point on a considered hierarchy and data model).
  4. Confirm your Project Lifecyle stages (this will differ based on your methodology and project type e.g. software development) and definitions.
  5. Define your governance structure or tailor one to your needs which includes the roles, how they interact with each other and how they work within a hierarchy. This can then be overlaid with governance forums such as Steering Committees or even Agile ceremonies.
  6. Define your governance processes and think about how these monitor and control a project. Each process can be mapped like any business process with a series of steps that need to be followed in sequence (or via iteration) to get an outcome.
  7. Map your processes to each phase of the lifecycle – note that some processes will span more than one phase.
  8. Map your roles to your processes to establish responsibilities which can be done using a responsibility assignment matrix such as a RACI.
  9. Start small and iterate. Frameworks are theoretical in design and must be proved before being implemented. The worst mistake you can make is to design a framework, processes etc. with the intent to establish good governance but you will immobilise your project if it is too cumbersome.

Ultimately, good governance equals balance between delivery (the accelerator) and control (the brake) and using them in sync to achieve your project outcomes safely and within the time, cost, quality and other constraints every project will have.