Governance, Project management

Granularity of project governance frameworks

I’ve worked with a few organisations that wanted to create a framework for reporting on and governing projects or programmes. The intention is generally good: we have lots of projects and programmes across the organisation; if we can standardise the approach to governing them and reporting upwards then we can ensure they are run to a baseline standard, people can move between them without relearning administrative details, and we can collect and collate information centrally with minimal effort.

But in attempting this most organisations face a problem of granularity. The common initial instinct is to be very prescriptive: use this template for planning, this one for board reports, this one for your risk register (urgh) and so on. This is quickly met with a realisation (if not active resistance) that it is too prescriptive, and robs the people delivering the work of the freedom to work in the way they see best. One team I worked with was grudgingly accepting of the standard report format, but reflected that important information would be lost as they routinely translated their own management information from their own format to the prescribed one.

Sometimes the opposite problem occurs: the framework is so broad as to be of little use to people. I’ve worked with one organisation that wanted to implement the GDS governance principles. The idea was generally well-received, but those running projects and programmes struggled to put the principles into practice. They would say things like, “I agree that ‘Governance should be simple and supportive’, but if you’re telling me I run too many board meetings then you also need to show me what I should be doing, and how to get it right.”

There is no single answer to this, but I can say that the organisations I worked with that produced the most successful results did it by listening to their end users. The sweet spot is somewhere in the middle, but exactly where can only be discovered through conversation, listening, understanding and adjusting.

I also suspect that the Utopian dream of all projects reporting in a standard way with minimal effort is just a dream. The very nature of projects suggests they unique, and the individuals involved are unique, which means a one-size fits all governance or reporting format will never fit everyone very effectively. Some wasted time is almost inevitable as project or programme groups either struggle to operate with inappropriate management mechanisms, or continually translate everything from one presentational format to another.

Photo by Martin Thomas

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