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Governance of Co-Owned Projects

As a consequence of the 2008 credit crunch I was involved in a number of transformation programmes with organisations needing to rapidly change their delivery models in order to operate within much lower operating budgets.

Some of these programmes involved establishing shared services (e.g. Finance, HR, IT, property management) or shared delivery (e.g. local authority waste management) with other similar organisations. How these types of shared service/delivery operations will be governed (with multiple ‘owning’ organisations) is a key consideration when designing the blueprint or operating model for the service. Whilst these types of initiatives had a range of governance models to evaluate and select for how the shared services would be operated it dawned on me that there were no such governance models for how they would be implemented. And that was why many of these programmes were proving more challenging than the transformation programmes that were entirely under the control of a single organisation. Traditional project/programme management methods may provide for multiple organisations involved (e.g. customer, supplier) they all assume a single governance body for decision making.

One programme I worked on concerned changes that were beyond the authority of the executive leadership of both organisations (local authorities). Organisation A had a cabinet which was authorised to approve the changes and Organisation B required a majority of its elected members to approve the changes at a full council meeting. There was a 3 week gap between the meetings of organisation A and organisation B. Organisation A approved the changes, but organisation B asked for an amendment to the proposals so it had to go back to organisation A. Unfortunately, at this time organisation A wouldn’t meet again for 6 weeks due to summer holidays. When they did meet they asked for an amendment to organisation B’s proposed changes, but the next meeting of organisation B had a full agenda, so it waited a further 4 weeks before it was approved. It took more than 3 months longer to gain approval compared to the 3 weeks in the programme plan!

It was around this time that I started getting involved with the APM’s governance SIG and when I first came across a short guide called Co-Directing Change. This guide provided the context of co-owned projects – those joint projects where no single organisation is the sole decision-maker and where the co-owners are inextricably linked to the performance of the project – and set out a number of principles for good governance of co-owned projects together with a number of questions to help organisations and projects/programmes to probe the suitability of their governance arrangements. The guide offered no governance model, nor was it prescriptive in what organisations should do as the range of co-owned projects is so vast. But the principles and questions have proved truly enlightening and empowering to organisations establishing and delivering co-owned projects/programmes.

Since discovering Co-Directing Change it is one of the most used guides in my consulting kit bag. In fact, it’s one of just a few that I carry with me most of the time and has more coffee stains, markings and dog-eared corners than any other guide I refer to.

Over the past 2 years I’ve had the privilege of sponsoring the project to revise the guidance which has resulted in the launch of the Governance of Co-owned Projects publication. The project was led by Dr Hartley Millar (one of the key members of the original authoring team) and comprised numerous contributors from within the SIG through worskhops, study groups etc and reviews by organisations who have experienced sponsoring or delivering co-owned projects. The revised guidance, remains true to the original philosophy of being principles-based and provides probing questions rather than definitive solutions. It has also kept to the philosophy of being aimed at the board or those who influence the board – therefore it is still short and to the point!

The new guide has the benefit of eight more years of trial and error and draws on related guidance concerning collaborative working and joint projects that simply didn’t exist back in 2008 – such as the British standard for Collaborative Business Relationships, various reports from the National Audit Office and HM Treasury’s project initiation routemap.

With pressures on costs and efficiency, the trend appears to continue for ever increasing instances of co-owned projects - whether it is government-to-government, government-to-industry, industry-to-industry or other forms of joint projects. If you are involved in one of those, then the Governance of Co-Owned Projects is for you!

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  1. James Jones
    James Jones 24 January 2017, 02:01 PM

    Thanks for sharing your views! I'd love to read more about Co-Directing Change. I'm planning to get a copy myself but I'd like to see how it applies working on projects. Are there any case studies possibly? James