Governance in decentralised organisations

Photo by Anita363A few random notes on the role of  governance in decentralised organisations. This comes from a discussion I took part in earlier today with peers from a range of organisations.

We agreed that governance is about (a) surfacing pertinent issues and (b) helping people make decisions. But exactly what needs to be surfaced depends on what people wants to know. It may be

  • Confirming regulatory compliance;
  • Confirming the stakeholders are happy (a real example of one participant);
  • Ensuring projects are moving rapidly;
  • Measuring operational progress against predefined KPIs;
  • …and so on.

What you want to surface, and what decisions the senior management team will want to take, determines what information gets collected and presented.

It was acknowledged that governance processes can be very prescriptive to people in projects — for example determining test procedures or release processes — but we generally saw that as a bad thing. In particular, it is rare that one procedure is the best fit for every project. It’s harder for that to happen in a decentralised organisation, but not impossible.

One participant outlined his ideal governance model: At various points throughout a project’s lifecycle a check is made against all of a number of criteria. For example, requirements coverage, security, quality, compliance, commercial model, etc. For each criterion only an authoritative person can say it is satisfactory. So only the head of security or one of her representatives can confirm the security is appropriate; the project manager cannot confirm her approval second hand. If something is not confirmed the oversight group flags it. Notably, they do not fix it, nor do they mandate any actions. It is up to the senior management group to take any actions where it sees fit. Thus the oversight group does not control what people do, and authority continues to be devolved.

What I’m left thinking about now is this: Governance is about assurance and decision support. If the governance process is too light it is pointless. If it is too heavy it adds weight and slows things down. Now, can you be sure you’ve got it right…?