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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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  1. Miles Dixon
    Miles Dixon 02 July 2013, 11:26 AM

    In answer to the first question, I would argue that a bottom-up approach to Project Management Govenrnance is sometimes necessary - you have to start somewhere - but that without endorsement from the top, a system of Project Management Governance is not sustainable and therefore not effective.  Therefore any bottom-up intitiative needs to gain strategic endorsement by the corporate management, which leads to the second question.  Achieving such endorsement will depend on many factors, including being able to demonstrate the benefits and necessity of having good governance of project management (the principles and practice of change management apply here).Moving onto the third question,  as the previous comment said culture of the organisation is an important factor.  However, the Governance SIG's publication 'Directing Change' gives a framework for assessing and improving the governance of project management and therefore, whatever the culture of the organisation, provides a foundation for assuring that the organisation's numerous different activities, projects, programmes and portfolios are aligned.

  2. Alastair Smart
    Alastair Smart 18 June 2013, 03:40 PM

    Hi Obi, thanks for this post. Having just moved from the UK to Canada to support implementation of a portfolio management solution, Im particularly interested in your comments on the similarities (and divergence) between APM and PMI and I hope to become more familiar with the latter over the next year or so. For me the key word that links all three of your questions is alignment between the top and the bottom, and the fact that neither can exist alone.  By its nature Governance has to be directed from above, but it is important to recognise the symbiotic relationship with regular activity that must take place at the lowest levels of project control in order for the whole to be effective.  Similarly, Project Managers striving to apply solid governance arrangements without corporate support will quickly become frustrated and stop making the effort.  My quick answers to your first two questions would be:Effective governance cannot be achieved through the bottom-up approach alone, but robust governance activities at lower levels are the foundations supporting corporate-level governance.Bottom-up efforts at governance should be recognised and endorsed by corporate management who are responsible for ensuring that these efforts are consistent with the organisational needs. Your third question is a little harder to provide a quick answer to, given the vast differences in culture, approach and goals that can exist, even within a single organisation.  I think that it is particularly important that as broadly as possible, stakeholders (i.e. not just the direct team but anyone who is affected by the change) understand not just what they are being asked to do differently, but also why the change must take place.  This can sometimes be forgotten in the midst of major change. Regular, consistent communication of this need from the highest level in the organisation, backed up by demonstrable action, i.e. decision making, should support alignment throughout a project, programme or portfolio. Using the same tools and terminology will also help to maintain alignment; as you point out, mandating things like broader PM training and the application of particular methodologies are strategic level decisions but those affected need to understand (and recognise) the need in order to buy in to the solution.