Does a bottom up approach work in the application of governance?

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Recently, I found an opportunity to review my journey (as an accidental project manager) in the profession so far. I must admit that I felt proud seeing how project management has increasingly become the first choice careers for the younger generation, However, greater awareness of the profession could not shake off the predicament I experienced in one of my recent roles - which involved managing the governance aspect of a major infrastructure programme in the UK – where I vigorously preached and embedded basic principles.

I discovered in that role (and other previous ones) that many board members and executive directors of organisations (who sit at the apex of governance and have important oversight roles) often find the application of governance responsibilities to organisational projects a major challenge.  Also the worrying thing on the other hand is that some “certificated or accredited” project management practitioners view governance as unnecessary bureaucracy: when asked to suggest solutions to governance issues they typically come up with ideas such as right contracts, new processes, procedures  and methodologies, forgetting that a fool with a tool is still a fool.

It appears to me that both the Association for Project Management (APM) and Project Management Institute (PMI) (irrespective of differences on the issue of Royal Charter) agree on this subject and have shone some light on my dilemma by raising awareness about the importance of Effective Governance of Project Management through a number of events and publications. APM (in the form of Governance SIG) have published guidance via Directing Change, are also starting to benchmark specific good governance metrics with some corporate members and also recently ran a Master Class on Collaborative Governance led by Andrew Spiers.  PMI recently had a Webinar on Enterprise Project Governance (EPG) – led by Paul Dinsmore and Luiz Rocha.

Personally, it is very encouraging to know that governance as key to project success or failure is now being highlighted more within the project management community. I was equally impressed to learn that there are common grounds with APM and PMI on governance principles such as strategic alignment or portfolio direction, high level (board and chief executive) capability and involvement, project management and leadership capability, stakeholder management as well as disclosure and reporting; the main challenge to governance being the ever present factors of behaviour, relationships, power, politics and influence.

However, while APM’s Directing Change and presentations tend to focus more on the top down approach to Governance, the EPG webinar presentation recommends three approaches – Board, CEO and Bottom Up. I have no issues with the first two (top down) options, but have concerns regarding the bottom up approach.  The ideas they suggested for bottom-up are: intensification of PM training, stimulating the use of PM in all types of project – HR, IT, Finance, etc., identification of potential sponsors and development of PMOs. To me, these suggestions are not bottom-up, but more of strategic and leadership responsibilities which leave me with these nagging questions:

  1. Can we ever achieve effective Project Management Governance through the bottom-up approach?
  2. Will bottom-up efforts at governance get strategic endorsement by the corporate management?
  3. How do you align numerous bottom-up activities and maintain overall assurance in complex projects, major programmes or portfolios?

I am keen to hear from people who have actually applied it and succeeded.
Obi Ozonzeadi (MSc, PMP, MAPM)

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Posted by Obiora Ozonzeadi on 18th Jun 2013

About the Author
A dynamic, self motivated and highly enthusiastic project professional with excellent communication skills and a strong “can-do” attitude to achieving business or personal targets. I have proven ability of successfully implementing changes within a Major Programme in the UK and enjoy challenges especially when they involve flexible thinking, inter-disciplinary problem solving and multi layer stakeholder management.

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