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Five principles of good project governance

When running large change programmes, good governance is what will protect investment, provide assurance and give control to the organisation whilst allowing the project teams to get on with the job in hand.

Less effective governance often occurs in two extremes; either the organisation forces projects to adopt exhaustive measures and assurance reviews which burden the project and increase resources or at the other end of the spectrum projects start organically, occasionally pushing out progress reports to a few stakeholders and are generally viewed with suspicion by their organisation and struggle to get decisions made.

So how do we get the balance right between the bureaucratic stranglehold of the organisation and the renegade project?

We want to suggest 5 key focuses for effective programme governance:

  1. Integrated planning: ensuring projects are well planned will be the foundation for progress reporting, but can also hardwire the discipline of talking to other workstreams and projects by integrating plans and tracking dependencies
  2. Expert change control: inevitably your programme won’t operate in a vacuum and will have to adapt to the changing external environment, technical issues and moving user requirements. Therefore providing clear boundaries as to when to approach sponsors, escalate concerns or get change approved in a considered process is essential
  3. Adaptable progress reporting: it is visibility that will give the programme team and the organisation a sense of control. Standardisation and automation of reporting is good but having centralised ownership through a PMO will give consistency whilst providing a hub of information creating insight, foresight and flexibility in reporting
  4. Proactive risk management: more than just stage gate compliance, the programme needs to establish a strong culture of identifying, reporting and tracking risks and issues in a way which crosses project and workstream boundaries and creates practical mitigations
  5. Business strategic fit: at a portfolio level programmes and projects should be prioritised to align to strategic business objectives. However once in flight, particularly larger projects, should continue to regularly check back to organisational priorities to ensure that the benefits and outcomes being pursued are still relevant

There is a fine balance between being bureaucratic and having dangerously absent governance. The key is to ensure visibility, responsiveness and strategic direction.

Should I be using Agile project management for Change?

Everyone’s talking about Agile project management, and it’s reported to be 3 times more successful than other techniques. So, do we have to re-structure, re-train, re-model our change programme? Wait…maybe there are some practical principles we could adopt today.. 

Agile came into being with the ‘Manifesto for Agile Software Development’  published in 2001. Since then it has grown into the de facto methodology for software development teams and tech start-ups.

Organisations continue to race to adopt Agile, but it’s no off the shelf solution, rather it’s a collection behaviours, approaches and techniques which hold to the principles of the Agile Manifesto.

The question is: what does Agile have to offer organisational change programmes?

At Afiniti we help organisations prepare for, manage and embed change and this often starts with how to structure your programme. Often whilst aspiring to Agile principles an organisation’s executive team will still require more traditional project controls such as predictable schedules, predetermined budgets and some fixed scope.

 

So how do we combine the two?

A great practical way to build some Agile into your programme is to start with your component project teams and SCRUM. This will mean at a basic level assigning a Product Owner and Scrum Master within that team and breaking activity down into sprints.

This will allow your teams to be reactive to change and stay centred on the customer’s requirements. This could be implemented within a training team; developing training materials iteratively with regular feedback loops to end users or if in a large IT change programme perhaps within your data cut-over team; holding daily scrum meetings empowering team members to self-organise the ‘how’ whilst allowing the lead to focus on Sprint goals.

If this is a good start point then there are also some great Agile principles we can learn and adopt too when undertaking programmes of change, without reinventing the wheel.

 

Take Spotify for example

Spotify have reinvented the wheel and apply Agile to their entire organisation. The organisation is structured into squads with a long term mission, such as “building and improving the Android client” and tribes incubating ideas across squads pursuing similar goals. But there’s a lesson here.

Whilst this restructure may be out of reach for most of us, the idea of keeping conversations outcome focussed, pushing towards the product or goal whilst encouraging collaboration between those facing similar challenges, can be of benefit for all of us.

Spotify also hold to the philosophy that dependencies should be avoided at (nearly) all costs. Blockers or problematic connections are eliminated through re-prioritisation, re-organisation or technical solutions, rather than being managed throughout the development lifecycle. What do we think of this?

Well, in complex change programmes dependencies cannot be completely avoided, but an approach which views these as a type of risk and aims for simplicity, keeps dependent activity highly visible and encourages continued dialogue to reduce complexity and mitigate risk.

So, are we looking to change everything?

 

The Big Three

A recent insight from APM into “Conditions for project success” identified factors critical to successful projects. These will remain important to your change programme even if introducing more Agile practices.

Effective Governance: whilst you might encourage a more iterative approach to detailed planning you will still require a high level plan for each sprint and defined decision gates at a programme level.

Goals and objectives: although you may wish not to tightly specify the product as in Agile, it is still vitally important that we stay focussed on the business value being created.

Commitment to success: commitment transcends technique every time, envisioning your project team will remain vital whatever the process.

Agile behaviours and approaches will enhance your delivery of change, this isn’t a complete re-write but it’s about being more responsive, people focussed and collaborative whilst delivering the benefits, governance and peace of mind your organisation needs.

 

Find out more about how afiniti can help with Business Change