Project governance is not just a matter of turning up to a monthly meeting and winging it – it’s a knowledge set that needs to be learned. After all, every epic project fail has been overseen by a group of otherwise competent managers who did not know what to do as it failed.

Any project manager who lacks effective support and direction from a strong governance team drawn from the business is continually pushing the proverbial uphill.

Project success

Project governance is central to project success as measured in business outcomes, benefits and value delivered. It is not peripheral. There are numerous governance dimensions to bear in mind, from the start of a project, to its conclusion, including:

  1. Setting and protecting the project’s scope
    The governance team needs set the project’s scope; too broad risks a lack of focus while too narrow risks missing opportunities. Once set in the business case, the scope needs to be protected from changes which would detract from the project’s effectiveness.
  1. Defining success
    Business outcomes and not project outcomes are the right measures; governance teams must define business outcomes in clear, specific and measurable terms.
  1. Agreeing business requirements
    Resist the pressure to get on with delivering the solution to first take time to clearly and correctly define your business needs.
  1. Evaluating and approving the project
    ROI isn’t the only consideration; you also need to think about the project’s strategic priorities and likelihood of success as well as your organisation’s capability and capacity to deliver it.
  1. Selecting a project manager
    Choose someone who has the experience and skills for the job and keep them accountable; your reputation is in their hands.
  1. Keeping eyes on the prize
    All progress, issues and potential changes to the project need to be assessed in relation to the central business value the project was designed to deliver in the first place; it’s easy to forget about the business outcomes amid the hustle and bustle of the project.
  1. Representing and championing the project
    The governance team needs to be seen to be fully and enthusiastically supporting and enabling the project.
  1. Getting resources
    Every project is competing for time and staff attention with other projects, and with business as usual. The governance team needs to ensure the project has the cooperation from the right people at the right time; you many need to assign, negotiate, coerce and even direct people to participate.
  1. Building and maintaining stakeholder support
    Identifying key stakeholders, getting them on board and continuing to monitor their attitudes, even if the project team is leading communications with them.
  1. Identifying critical success factors
    In this context, critical success factors are risk factors outside the project team’s control which need to be in place for the project to succeed. The governance teams needs to identify, track and manage these factors such as changes in the market, competitor actions, interest rate changes, etc.
  1. Defining and maintaining quality standards
    Quality doesn’t mean perfection. The governance team needs to define what is fit for purpose, and develop mechanisms to ensure that those standards are being met and will deliver the business outcomes.
  1. Managing funding
    The governance team needs to monitor spending to avoid waste and encourage productivity. Any contingency funds should not be considered as an integral part of the pool of money to be spent. Contingency funds should reside with the governance team and be allocated only when justified by the project team as needed.
  1. Keeping the project team in the loop
    The governance team needs to let the project leadership team know about any new business strategies, directions or events that could affect the project… and to help them work through any ramifications.
  1. Managing vendors and consultants
    Vendors need to be monitored to ensure you’re getting the right skills and knowledge, achieving the outcomes required and are receiving good value for money. Never abdicate control to consultants.
  1. Monitoring progress
    The governance team needs to keep the project manager honest by monitoring the project’s progress against the original plan and following up on delays, missed deadlines, disappearing deliverables, over-expenditure or under-expenditure… Sometimes the most important facts are what is not in the project reporting.
  1. Keeping your ear to the ground
    Just because you get progress reports with green boxes, doesn’t mean a project is actually on track; talk face-to-face with project team members and business participants.
  1. Managing change
    Business managers need to be guided, supported and, at times, directed to change, which requires the influence and power of the governance team; never assume the project team can achieve business changes without help and always do what you can to minimise disruption as much as possible. Also, always keep tabs on morale, and whether enough is being done to sustain it both in the project team and in the business area/s impacted.
  1. Enabling and measuring benefits
    The project governance team needs to ensure the business and financial benefits enabled by the completed project are fully delivered, and are measured i.e. the governance team’s work extends beyond the end of the project.
  1. Stopping or suspending the project
    It’s tough to kill a project but if the business or ROI factors change so much the project is no longer worthwhile, the project governance team has a responsibility to stop or suspend it so no more money is wasted on it. Projects should not be ‘condemned to completion’.
  1. Closing out the project
    Whether the project goes to completion or not, governance teams need to close out any project professionally. This process includes reviewing the performance of personnel and recording the lessons learnt. If the project has run to conclusion, you also need to ensure that mechanisms to measure the project’s ongoing delivery of benefits and value are in place.

Each individual item on this list is not a complex concept to master, but each is an important ingredient in getting project governance right.