The golden rules of governance

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Martin Samphire sets out five areas that organisations should focus on to achieve better governance

OK, so you are involved in a major project. Maybe you are new onto a project already running, or you have been brought in at the start with a group of others new to it. So how do you ensure, or assure, that your project has been established with healthy governance in mind – and at the fore?

From research and my own experience, I have developed the golden rules for good governance, set out below. Each can be used as a check on your project.

1. Alignment and relationships
The project sponsor should be passionate about the reasons for the project and its impact on corporate strategy, and be able to articulate this vital linkage to all stakeholders. The project should have a high level of impact on the strategic outcomes sought.

2. Vision and strategic roadmap
Is there a clear vision and ‘end state’ that defines clearly the destination or outcome and benefits (eg market positioning, target operating model, profitability, reputation, etc)? The ‘why’ and desired outcome and end-state vision must drive all delivery.

3. Golden thread of delegation
A key part of governance is to gain focused accountability and delegate an appropriate level of decision-making to the key leaders and managers involved in projects.

Organisations should have a systematic and documented corporate governance policy defining where (body or role in the organisation) each type of project decision can be most effectively made, by whom and to what authority level (often defined by financial (or risk) limits).

4. Clearly allocated roles and accountability
Having clarity and avoiding overlap or gaps between role responsibilities is a crucial requirement for good governance – and getting true accountability.

At a project level we need to understand who is the sponsor or project executive, and who is the project manager, senior user and senior supplier. All should be named individuals – similarly at a programme level.

5. Requirements – keeping the end destination in sight
Many delivery teams lose sight of the end objective or business case. A crucial role of good governance is to keep checking that the forecast result is still appropriate and that the ‘left to right’ activities, once completed, will result in the desired output and outcome.

Project managers should be asking: is the plan still going to deliver the desired output? This is in discussion with the sponsor, who should be asking: is this still going to deliver the desired business outcome?

The indicators of good health in the governance of a project come mainly through a strong culture, behaviours and relationships – people who believe in and want to do things in the right way. A project could have the best structure in the world, and all the right review/authorisation bodies set up, but if the behaviour is wrong – and someone wants to play games or circumvent lessons learned and good practice – then good governance is destroyed.

I have spoken much about the role of the sponsor on individual projects – and their leadership role is critical both to direct the project team, via the project manager, but also to protect the delivery team from organisational interference. They need to lead from the front and champion their project at every opportunity, both within the organisation and with key external stakeholders.

On your next project you might quickly assess these areas to give you an idea of the strength of your governance. Good luck.

Included in this blog is a snapshot of (five of) the golden rules for good governance. You can read the full article 10 golden rules for good governance – including more insight to help you assess how healthy your organisational governance is – by visiting the APM Hub, exclusive content for APM members.

Image: Mihai Dud/Shutterstock

Martin Samphire

Posted by Martin Samphire on 8th Jun 2020

About the Author

Martin is the owner and Managing Director of 3pmxl Ltd, a consultancy specialises in helping clients to transform their business using structured P3M approaches.   

Martin is Chairman of the Association for Project Management (APM) Specific Interest Group (SIG) on Governance.  The Governance SIG has developed guidelines for Governance of Project Management, including 'Directing Change', 'Governance of Multi-owned Projects', 'Sponsoring Change' and ‘Directing Agile Change’.  He authored chapter 19 on Governance in the 2nd Edition of the Gower Programme Management Handbook (2016).  He is also a member of a voluntary group, the P3M Data Club.

He has over 30 years management consulting, change, project, programme and portfolio implementation experience in both the private and public sectors - in the UK and internationally.

Martin is a mechanical engineer by training and started his career in major capital project contracting in the petrochemical sector.

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