Published here January 2016.


Musings Index

Project Governance – What's All the Fuss About?

Actually, what I want to talk about is project management governance, where "project management" in this case is defined as the whole domain of project management from portfolio management, down through program management to the management of a single project. Each of these three separate hierarchical disciplines should have "good governance".

Well, obviously that's a good idea but what is "governance" in the first place and how does it morph into "project governance"? According to the Institute on Governance (IoG),[1]

"The complexity of governance is difficult to capture in a simple definition.

The need for governance exists any time a group of people comes together to accomplish an end. Though the governance literature proposes several definitions, most rest on three dimensions: authority, decision-making and accountability. At the Institute, our working definition of governance reflects these dimensions:

Governance determines who has power, who makes decisions, how other players make their voice heard and how account is rendered.

Ultimately, the application of good governance serves to realize organizational and societal goals."

The IoG goes on to explain:

"Governance is about the more strategic aspects of steering, making the larger decisions about both direction and roles. Where a group is too large to efficiently make all necessary decisions, it creates an entity to facilitate the process. Group members delegate a large portion of the decision-making responsibility to this entity."

Hence, the IoG suggests that the simple definition of governance is:[2]

"The art of steering societies and organizations."

However, some critics complain that this definition is too simple. The word "steering" suggests that governance is a straightforward process, like steering a boat. Unfortunately, it is complicated by the fact that, by definition, it involves multiple parties. This makes it complicated, unpredictable and often political.

The IoG goes further and states categorically:[3]

"Governance is also a highly contextual concept. The process and practices that will apply will vary significantly given the environment in which they are applied. Governance in the public sector needs to take into account legal and constitutional accountability and responsibilities.

In the non-governmental sector, representing stakeholder interests may be a determining factor in the governance to be applied. Even within these sectors, size, shape, form and function will vary greatly from one organization to the next. When working in the field of governance, one operates in an area where one size does not fit all."

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) developed a set of Five Principles of Good Governance, which encompassed:

  1. Legitimacy and Voice, i.e., Participation and Consensus orientation
  2. Direction, i.e., Strategic vision
  3. Performance, i.e., Responsiveness, Effectiveness and Efficiency
  4. Accountability, i.e., Answerability and transparency
  5. Fairness, i.e., Equity and Rule of Law.

That's all pretty generic, but how does that apply to project management? Well, in a draft book proposed by authors Lynn Crawford, Christophe Bredillet and Rodney Turner suggested in much the same way that The Building Blocks of Program and Project Governance[4] are:

  1. Strategic Alignment
  2. Control and decision-making
  3. Governance structures
  4. Roles and Accountabilities
  5. Performance and Effectiveness
  6. Stakeholder Management
  7. Ethics, disclosure and transparency

In fact, in a book titled Project Governance[5] by Ralf Müller, Ralph says:

"Governance, applied at the corporate level, affects projects through its impact on the behavior of people. Thus it needs to be implemented through a framework that guides managers in their daily work of decision making and action taking. In projects governance implementation is often defined in terms of policies, processes, roles and responsibilities. This allows for a smooth integration between organization-wide, general processes and the specific sub-processes related to projects"

"In projects ... defined in terms of policies, processes, roles and responsibilities"? In other words, the project manager's Policies and Procedures Manual!

I don't think I have ever worked on a project where I did not have a "P&P Manual". If I was not provided with one, I wrote one. For very large projects in which I participated, a committee would be set up to put one together and circulated, so that everyone knew the rules of engagement for that particular project. Of particular importance was the question of safety, not only in the construction processes but in the design processes as well. Procurement was another area that required careful conduct and handling.

As the IoG says: "Governance is also a highly contextual concept. The process and practices that will apply will vary significantly given the environment in which they are applied."

So in effect, the Policies and Procedures, aka "Governance", will be different for different projects, especially large ones, and will be different for each level[6] in the project management domain.

It's that simple — one size does not fit all!

1. Institute on Governance, located in Toronto, ON, Canada
2. Ibid
3. Ibid
4. Promotional advertising by
5. Published by Gower
6. That is, the different levels of project, program, and portfolio management.
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