North West branch conference - major projects and change governance

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Posted by APM on 11th Aug 2014

Phil Hardy's introductionPhil Hardy, the North West branch chairman welcomed the audience to the Major Projects and Change Governance conference at the AstraZeneca conference centre, Alderley Park. He started with few examples about some of the famous governance failures across the world such as the Macondo Well Blowout on the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 and the Toyota Recall fiasco between 2009 and 2011. He recapped his opening with the following words: Good governance is required from the project start-up. If you dont have it the project will likely to end up in tears!

Andy Murray, speaking on behalf of the APM Governance Specific Interest Group (SIG), then set the scene for the conference. He highlighted the work of the SIG in achieving change successfully with confidence and control and described the main elements of effective governance of project management emphasising the importance of executive leadership and the boards key role in ensuring good practice. Finally he shared some typical factors in project failure indicating that the majority had their root cause in the failure to establish effective governance.

Peter Taylor then focused on the project sponsors key leadership role in successful project governance. He asked the delegates to remember some important survey data which showed that;

  • 85% of organisations have project sponsors
  • 83% dont train or educate their sponsors (too cool for school?)
  • 99+% feel its important to have good sponsors as they are key to project success.

Peter then described the main elements of the sponsor's business role and some strategies for engaging and establishing effective sponsorship.

Rick Wylie then took an academics view on governance. He emphasised on the under developed governance mechanisms as one of the top three project performance problems. He then drew a parallel between project and program governance and policy political governance. Rick explicitly drew out the similarities; talking about the inter-organisational networks between organisations, fluidity, permeable borders and transience and then hard and soft projects differences.

He was very strong about partnership. He said the majority of the work that the University of Central Lancashire did was mainly focused on Sellafield who was working for partners and with partners.

Andrew Ingleby then focussed on the importance of leadership, behaviour and culture in effective change governance. He started by introducing the current corporate governance guidance followed by company boards and showed how the Governance SIGs Directing Change: A Guide to Governance of Project Management was aligned with it. The importance of leadership behaviour at organisation and project level in setting a culture that encouraged open reporting, effective risk management and a focus on the planned business benefits were all covered. Andrew finished by presenting a simple governance model showing the need for organisations to adopt a holistic approach to change governance in order to deliver value for stakeholders. 

Kevin Kane then talked about whistle-blowing in project governance context. He argued that if this is used correctly, whistle-blowers have a significantly important part in setting up the governance. So they are neither stereotypically heroes nor villains, they are just important. And the trick was, in his opinion, in how to set up the processes so that the whistle-blowing can be effective and helpful to the organisation by providing early warning. 

He also provided some statistics on the real-life application of the whistle-blowing policies from a recent survey:

  • 93% of respondent said that they had a formal system in place
  • 33% said they were completely in-effective
  • 54% said that they do not train key members of staff designated to receive concerns.  

Kevin went on to cover legal protections for whistle-blowers and power of organisational culture over whistle-blowing. He then explained about the importance of the training and leadership on influencing the whistle-blowers within the organisation. 

Andy Murray returned to the podium to present the findings from a group of 23 organisations which had participated in developing and sharing governance benchmarking survey data.  Benchmarking had identified a number of issues and wide variation around sponsorship including the selection of, use of competency assessment and longevity of sponsor. Survey data also revealed that the 60% of portfolios did not have the benefits identified and listed in the Sponsors objectives. There was similar variability in the completion of post project benefits realisation reviews with 62% of portfolios not carrying them out but some portfolios carrying them out for all projects.

Game session at North West Conference 2014There were two different interactive game sessions after lunch designed to assess the level of maturity of the teams. It is observed that organisations will deliver projects, programmes and portfolios more effectively if they have a high level of maturity. Both of the games had been designed to challenge the teams' communication skills, as well as experiencing the key processes of maturity which according to APM Body of Knowledge (BoK) 6th edition are: scope, schedule, finance, risk, quality and resource. 

Erik Johanesson then shared BAE Systems experience from its 10 year project governance journey. Their decision to prioritise project governance improvement had resulted from the learning from some past serious major programme failures and a recognition of the importance of project success to the business. In a fascinating presentation Erik showed how the company governed, organised and managed its portfolio and indicated some of the core business processes it used. He then showed how this aligned to the 13 principles enshrined in Directing Change and shared some lessons learned from the journey. 

The last presentation was given by Chris Day from AstraZeneca on the importance of the strong portfolio governance. He spoke about his two year journey with AstraZeneca on implementing new and solid portfolio governance on the companys IT projects. He started with the challenges and difficulties he experienced due to the old poor governance within the organisation. Chris then explained about his journey and provided the audience with an insight about the benefits of good portfolio governance which results into a better and more efficient control of the portfolio and maintaining that control; analyzing and prioritising the demands and selecting the projects according to the strategic alignment rather than personal view. He also explained about the power of transparency and having single point of truth at all times for the portfolio which provides a clear base better strategic decision making.

Andrew Bragg, APMs CEO, concluded the conference by emphasising the key elements of the presentations during the day. He believed the profession has come a long way and is growing rapidly. He expressed his gratitude to all of the Specific Interest Groups (SIG) and specifically the Governance SIG, who are dedicated groups of professionals who take knowledge forward. He recognised, that when Directing Change: A Guide to Governance of Project Management was first published in 2003, governance was not a well recognised topic in project management and the body of knowledge (at that time it was the 4th edition) did not have a section on governance at all.

This governance conference, coupled with the current sixth edition which now starts with the section on governance, demonstrates how the profession continues to move forward. The SIG continues to update their guidance regularly which is a testament to the commitment of specific interest groups; not just to produce a guideline but to keep it refreshed, up-to-date and relevant.

Colin Parker

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