Explaining Project Governance: A Key to Successful Projects

By Henri Gisclard-Biondi
Published: 05/02/2021
how-to backgroundExplaining Project Governance: A Key to Successful Projects

Project governance doesn’t naturally come to mind when evoking project management or project portfolio management (PPM). However, this notion plays an essential part in ensuring the sound structure, organisation and quality of projects.

Good governance offers several benefits. It is essential to:

  • choosing a project management methodology
  • organising the different stakeholders into committees
  • anticipating the risks
  • decision making

This article is designed to guide you through the challenges of Project Portfolio Management.

What is project governance?

Project governance refers to the management and organisation frameworks in place within a company. It makes it possible to identify the roles and responsibilities of each key stakeholder.

It has various objectives, such as:

  • ensuring processes related to the project are conducted in a sustainable, safe manner
  • making the flow of information smoother between stakeholders
  • facilitating decision-making
  • setting up committees to pilot the project (stakeholder management, communication, definition of key roles…)
  • ensure alerts about risks are quickly transmitted to project managers

The advantages of project governance

Why is project governance important? What problems can it avoid?

An efficient system of project governance allows to:

  • identify, anticipate and assess the risks and benefits associated with a project
  • facilitate decision making: decision-makers have a comprehensive understanding of the project as a whole, thus they can make more agile decisions
  • avoid organisational hiccups and conflicts, by defining processes and a clear system for assigning roles and reviewing performance
  • enhance the flow of information: communication channels are well-established, people know to whom they should report problems or ask questions

Project governance roles

Project Sponsor - Steering Committee - Project Management Office - Project Manager© PMI.org

Project Sponsor

The project sponsor is the person who initiated the project in the first place. They have been advocating for the project since its inception, and have defined a vision for the project. They are the one to provide the resources needed to complete the project.

They assume a strategic role more than operational, day to day responsibility, which is vested in the project manager. However, it is crucial to keep the project sponsor informed and invested in daily operations. Indeed, the strategy they define should be suited to the reality on the ground.

They have made the initial business case for the project, and are responsible for keeping it viable, and ensuring it brings value to the company as a whole. They define guidelines for reporting, find financing sources, and are the last resort to resolve conflicts within the project team.

After defining the project plan and ensuring its objectives are realistic, the project sponsor gives authority to the project manager to lead daily operations. While they still oversee the overall progress of processes, they should not undermine the project manager in their role.

Their role throughout the life cycle of the project extends to the closing phase and post-mortem analysis. They define criteria to evaluate project success, and give their approval to the deliverables of the project.

Steering committee

The steering committee is an advisory board made up of key stakeholders and experts in fields related to the project. They provide advice and guidance on key issues. The topics they can discuss encompass all the areas of the project, including its budget, strategies

It is an integral part of the project governance structure, and supervises the project team’s progress. It ensures that deadlines are met and goals achieved.

The steering committee should include stakeholders from different departments and varied fields. To set up a steering committee, managers at different levels of the company should be considered. This ensures that coherent communication is maintained between all the relevant parties.

However, this advisory body should not slow down processes. Meetings should remain effective and relatively rare. This requires to communicate clear goals and objectives to committee members beforehand.

Project Management Office

The Project Management Office (PMO) is responsible for defining and enforcing standards across the company. They ensure that standard processes are understood and followed within the organisation.

To achieve this goal and ensure the cohesion of the team, the PMO keeps relevant documents up to date to centralise the rules. Though its role is mainly to choose and explain the methodologies used in project management, it can also participate in defining the strategy for the project.

The Project Management Office publishes Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to help managers assess the efficacy of their actions. It also keeps a body of knowledge about the best practices related to processes.

Project manager

The project manager oversees the daily processes necessary to complete the project. They ensure that the goals and deadlines are met, while keeping in mind the constraints set by the project sponsor.

They are responsible for managing the team in charge of the project. They must:

  • plan each task (what should be done and when), and assign them to a team member
  • report about the risks and performances of the project
  • ensure compliance with the standards defined by the PMO
  • motivate and manage their team to keep productivity high
  • adapt the project plan to changes

Project managers are typically skilled in the industry the project evolves, especially when it comes to IT projects. But they must also possess a wide range of non-technical skills (soft skills), as well as transversal skills in project management.

The qualities of good project managers include :

  • good interpersonal communication skills: a good project manager must have a people-oriented approach
  • leadership and decision-making skills, as for every manager
  • organisational and budgeting skills, to keep project development in check

Project managers are essential to the success of any project. They are the main interface between strategic management and operational leadership. They are the one person responsible for executing the vision of the project sponsor. This means defining the best course of action, overseeing day-to-day processes and working around constraints.

Tips for effective project governance

Create a governance framework early on

Setting up the project governance structures as early as possible in the project lifecycle is one of the key success factors. This guarantees that the project will be given proper structure and clear organisation. Paying attention to this step will help you abide by the constraints and standards you’ve set regarding quality, delays and costs.

Follow the principles of continual improvement

Project governance too can be included in a continual improvement dynamic to be more agile. Your governance structures can be reviewed and modified to fit your goals more effectively as the project progresses. Don’t shy away from removing board members or give people the right role to adapt to your current needs.

Keep your company’s global strategy in mind

Global corporate strategy sets objectives for the entire organisation. A project should serve these goals. Successful projects bring value to their stakeholders and help your company realise its vision. Make sure your project complies with the global strategy of your company and brings concrete improvements.

Choose an adapted methodology

The project management methodology you choose should be adapted to your organisation and to your project team. Be sure to discuss with all the relevant stakeholders to find the best one. It should be well-understood by the management team. There are many agile methodologies you can pick.

Enforce thorough reporting practices

Reporting help set up accurate dashboards, which make tracking KPIs easier. They serve as the basis for data-driven decisions. Dashboard reports give an overview of the progress of your project.

Pay attention to soft skills

Team members should obviously be skilled people. But project managers and team members should all share soft skills to collaborate effectively. These include:

  • listening skills
  • communication skills
  • organisational skills
  • autonomy

Final thoughts

Project governance gives vision and a proper structure to your project. Without it, coordinating stakeholders and teams towards success is nearly impossible.

A good governance framework gives your team members the right channels to communicate. This ensures project managers, who are at the heart of the project, receive clear instructions and can be effective in planning daily processes.

A clear understanding of the roles and responsibilities of everyone is a requirement to succeed. Be sure to keep this in mind when launching a new project!

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