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Does your Board exhibit good governance of project and change management? 22nd September 2015

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On 22nd September 2015 the Thames Valley Branch (TVB) held an event delivered by the Chair and a committee member of the APM Governance SIG, Martin Samphire and Miles Dixon. The event was held at the Holiday Inn in Farnborough.

Peter Deary introduced the session on behalf of the TVB and then the speakers by referring to the well-known reasons for project success and failure and the growing view that good governance as a key success factor for projects cannot be ignored.

Miles then explained the role of the APM Governance SIG and its objective to influence those in positions of power in organisations to adopt good governance practices.  He then went on to explain how governance was defined and what good governance meant in practice. He explained the difference between governance of specific projects and programmes and the governance of project management across the enterprise. He cited the good practice guidelines (Directing Change, Sponsoring Change, Co-directing Change) available from APM and the SIG and drew on experience of case studies from recent programme failures as well as highlighting some of the governance failures that have been in the news recently. He went on to reinforce that the good practice principles, particularly in the APM publication Directing Change, are very relevant – but we are still not good at embedding them into our organisations.  For a copy of the Directing Change Guide (APM members only) go to -

Martin outlined how the major improvements over the last 30-40 years have improved project manager skills, project management processes and tools, but outcome success rates have not improved.  He described the 12 key success factors that have been identified in the recent APM research.  As well as good governance being identified in its own right, the majority of the other key success factors are also essential elements of good governance.  So we need to change our focus for improvement – onto the sponsor and board roles.

Martin explained other recent research findings that support the hypothesis that good governance is THE crucial success factor for beneficial project outcomes (see slide attached).   He went on to share some thoughts on what governance bodies were essential for sound and good governance and described a case study that demonstrated the lessons of poor / good governance in practice. 

There was discussion around a few key themes:

  • Good governance is the key success factor in delivering beneficial project outcomes – the ‘silver bullet’
  • Good governance is mainly about relationships and behaviours – as well as process and structure
  • Why are we still not embedding good practice governance into our projects? We know the things we need to do well and the good practice but still we fail to embed.  We need to be stronger at the front end of projects to be open and honest about “how we will address the key reasons for failure / success factors” on this project.  
  • Few of the cited key reasons for project failure are the responsibility of the project manager role – they are mainly in the accountability of the project / programme sponsor or senior governance body in an organisation – the Board or Investment / sub-committee.  
  • The crucial role of the Board (or Investment / sub-committee).  Good governance starts at the Board:  As they are at the apex of governance in an organisation, they need to set the culture and demonstrate the right behaviours / be intolerant of the wrong behaviours.
  • How do we get competent ‘players’ in every position on the project ‘pitch’ – not just the PM but also Sponsor, Executives, Functional Managers, Users, etc.?  
  • Although much of the responsibility for good governance sits with the Sponsor and Board, the programme / project manager has a role to ‘educate’ the others as to their role and to establish an effective continuing relationship with their Sponsor.  The SIG is currently developing advice and guidance that will help younger PMs and get them past the often quoted perceived hurdle of “career limited conversations”.  However we do not need to “teach” sponsors and boards about the full breadth of project management, rather the wider context and what is expected of them in their role concentrating on how they can best add value and reduce risk.  
  • It is important to be able to locate your programme or project sponsor.  For a contracting organisation the project sponsor will probably sit in the client or customer organisation unless the project is an internal investment made by the contracting company, e.g. new product development, ERP, etc.  But it might be worthwhile having an “internal sponsor” who has accountability for the contract margin and strategic customer decisions.
  • Use of agile methods is useful in some circumstances, but not all.  ‘Waterfall’ methods also have their place.  Agile methods can help the education of users and a sponsor where new technology is being developed, and thence get a clearer understanding of requirements. 
  • The role of HR in supporting (not leading) enterprise wide transformation programmes.
  • Excellent project managers rarely make good sponsors – the key experience and background is in the business area, strategy, etc. 

Martin Samphire
Chair of GovSIG

The material from the evening has very kindly been made available for viewing below from the speakers.


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