What is project governance?

Project Governance is the infrastructure put in place to monitor and control the setup, management and completion of projects and realisation of benefits.

Why is Project Governance needed?

To oversee the project effectively and transparently with the required internal controls to ensure the investment in the project is managed well and is justified.

To provide an avenue whereby issues that may derail the project can be escalated and timely decisions made in the best interests of the organisation with the appropriate authority and level of accountability.

Good project governance minimises the chance of project failure and business risk arising from the project and optimises success and return on investment.

When is Project Governance needed?

Project governance is required at all phases of the project from the concept phase, when the requirements and scope of the project are being confirmed, through to procurement and securing vendors and project expertise, the configuration, build and delivery of the project, the transition to business as usual and close of the project.

Different skills and personnel may be required during these phases so the mix of those with governance responsibilities may change through the project life cycle. For the purposes of this article we will focus on the governance required from the build to close phases of the project, where most often scope can creep and costs can escalate and return on investment can wane.

Who needs to be involved?

  • The Project Sponsor or the person responsible for the business case and securing of funding for the project as well as having accountability for the project’s outcomes.
  • The Project Owner who is the person or persons whose business area is the prime beneficiary of the project deliverables and has responsibility to ensure the business needs are met.
  • The Project Manager leads the project team, manages the project and budget on a day to day basis, ensures any risks are managed or mitigated, ensures issues are resolved and deliverables are met to specification and meets the business needs and provides status reports.
  • Internal key stakeholders who have accountability for functions and services that need to be involved in the project and/or will be directly affected by the project once implemented. This usually includes the people that are accountable for supporting the deliverables on completion of the project, for example Information Technology and may be as diverse as those accountable for internal audit, human resources and other discrete business areas depending on the nature of the project.
  • Project team members as appropriate, who commonly hold first-hand information about the status of the project, for example the Vendor Project Manager and Change Manager.
  • External key stakeholders which may include an independent advisor and vendor senior management representation.

How do you provide project governance?

Collectively those that need to take a governance role form a steering group also known as project team board. With complex projects or programmes of work, for example where multiple organisations are involved, there may be a number of steering groups that report to an overarching Steering Board.

Each member of the steering group should:

  • have a description of their governance role inclusive of the collective as well as their specific accountabilities
  • know the time commitment involved
  • be familiar with the business case, the project plan, the milestones/assessment points/gateways
  • be able to scrutinise and critically appraise information provided by the project team
  • have the authority to make decisions in the best interests of the organisation

Meetings need to be scheduled with formal agenda, minutes and action recorded and tracked.

How do you know you have it right?

Obviously if the project delivers what was expected by the organisation on time and on budget you have got it right! However, you cannot wait until the expected finishing line to judge how good your governance has been.  You need to know along the journey that the project is well managed and well governed. The following are key indicators:

  • The project will align with achieving the organisation’s business strategy.
  • The steering group, those collectively involved in the governance of a project, at any point in time will have a clear understanding of the status and deliverables of the project.
  • All those involved in the project including, but not limited to, the steering group, project team, subject matter experts and change champions will understand their roles and responsibilities, will be seen to be fulfilling these roles with the capability and resources to do so.
  • Decision making at every level will be timely, effective and evidenced-based and, along with milestones/gateway points, will stand up to scrutiny.
  • The progress of the project will be transparent to all stakeholders with robust reporting and tracking mechanisms.
  • Variations from the original plan and business case will be well documented and formally approved.
  • There are no surprises for the steering group to deal with. Potential issues and risks are known from the outset and/or as soon as they become apparent. They are actively managed, issues are escalated as necessary and dealt with promptly.
  • The impact of the project on ‘business as usual’ in terms of policies, procedures and practice is known at a high level at the business case phase and, in detail, as an integral part of the design and configuration phase of the project.
  • Change management is evident from the commencement of the project with: regular and clear communication specifically relevant to the different stakeholder groups; commitment to training and support well documented and resourced; and active involvement of stakeholders in the preparation of their business areas to adopt any new ways of working required to support the successful implementation of the project and realise the expected benefits.
  • Information pertaining to the project, its implementation and realisation of benefits will be captured in real time and maintained.
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