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Developing the practice of governance

About the research

This research highlights the fact that good governance is the key to establishing a successful project by exploring academic literature combined with expert input from practitioners to understand what is known and where gaps in the knowledge base lie. The research focused on governance of large public-sector projects and the report aims to provide guidance to project professionals. The research is part of Project X, a broader research programme seeking to generate insights into major government projects and programmes.

The review has three purposes:

  1. To synthesise and summarise the knowledge base on project governance and assurance
  2. To identify from the academic literature, gaps in the existing knowledge base
  3. To provide guidance from both knowledge of practice and academic research.

Why is the research important?

It has been identified that a project needs to be governed from concept all the way through to delivery in order to be successful. Despite this the literature review that was undertaken as part of this study has shown that there are significant gaps in the knowledge base and that the literature does not agree on the structure of a robust project governance model, only that it should be based around four key principles.

This research looked at different types of projects, fixed-goal and moving-goal, and has endeavoured to give professionals guidance for the governance of each. It also looked at how governance changes during the different phases in the project Lifecyle.

Intended audience

The study should be of interest to experienced project professionals in both the public and private sector and anyone with an interest in the governance of major projects.

What did we discover?

The review found that:

  • There is a considerable amount of literature available, either directly based on project governance or in areas of importance for governance however, it also found, despite this, that some areas of governance have very little research. This highlights areas in which no firm guidance has been identified within the knowledge base. These areas include complexity, assurance, the informal phase, avoiding excess optimism and benefits realisation and maturity models.
  • The research has highlighted that an assurance system is an integral part of governance and therefore the assurance system needs to be developed alongside the governance system.
  • The research has found that two types of project exist (fixed-target and moving-target) and that the governance and assurance system will be very different for these projects because they are fundamentally different entities.
  • The research has identified that there have been cases of metric manipulation reported.
  • Many problems within major public investment projects have their origins before the final decisions to go ahead, which means that there are opportunities to re-scope and improve the projects. Soft analysis methods are important in helping to ‘se through complexity’ and inform major decisions. Soft analysis methods should be applied to all major projects to identify the most critical issues and risks ahead of time and ahead of the final decision to go ahead.


APM and the authors would like to acknowledge the support of the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA), along with colleagues within the Project X research initiative. They are also grateful for the important contributions of the participating organisations, individuals and access to data to enable this research to take place. For more information on Project X, please visit

Download the research