The Art of Project Management: Governance

By Carl M. Manello

Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory. – Sun Tzu, Military Strategist

The parallels are easy: a large-scale, enterprise-wide business initiative is like a war. Sometimes it can be a death march. Sometimes it can be a victorious success. Often the difference in the end is determined by planning the undertaking at the beginning. Whether an ERP replacement, a new pricing system, or an employee medical records system replacement, an organization will do well to understand the full scope of the “battle” before committing its warriors to the endeavor. In large-scale initiatives, planning tends to take the form of designing a governance framework.

The consummate leader cultivates the moral law, and strictly adheres to method and discipline; thus it is in his power to control success. —Sun Tzu

To paraphrase Sun Tzu again, the best executive cultivates an approach of overall governance and strictly adheres to it; thus it is in her power to succeed.

The operational challenge comes from the concern that too much control, too much governance, and too many required PM deliverables will all contribute to slowing down the effort, crimping creativity or preventing the nimble response options that executives crave. Yet, in Slalom’s experience, when the controls and governance are not put in place—at the beginning—the project team find it more difficult to follow the battle plan. If we continue to borrow from the military, then we can look at PM disciplines as command and control. The definition of command and control is the implementation of authority and direction by a properly designated leader over resources in the accomplishment of the mission. Should we expect anything less from our project executives?

But whether we label it command and control or governance, these terms are still somewhat ambiguous. Thus, in addition to detailed project planning, governance is defined by the inclusion of processes and methods for oversight and control; escalation and resolution of issues, risks, and conflicts; frameworks for clearly establishing visibility into the initiatives and streamlining decision-making; and the art and science of defining and implementing metrics and measures to gauge progress and performance.

Once the lines of command and control are established, the next step to ensure victory is to develop project plans. The exercise of planning is not about the plan itself. It is about the information, raising the level of understanding and ensuring critical integration that is required on a large-scale business initiative. The creation of an integrated master plan that rolls up from projects to work streams to programs is not simply academic. We don’t establish these hierarchies just so the PMO academics on the project feel good. These detailed reviews of milestones, integration points, dependencies, and precedence are crucial for articulating and delivering an initiative that has a chance of successful delivery.

The plan itself is not the thing. Once it has been developed, its key purpose is served.

In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable. – Dwight D. Eisenhower

Eisenhower, like many other leaders, understood that once the plan is set in motion, the plan must change to keep up with reality. Things happen that are not in the plan. Results, reactions, and speculation vary. Some choose to hold to the original plan with a tight fist and not allow for unknowns (that are always there) to impede progress. But I like Ike! He knew that a key part of leading for success was to change, morph, adapt, and overcome.

To borrow from another President, Abraham Lincoln said, “To give the victory to the right, not bloody bullets, but peaceful ballots only, are necessary.” Therefore, to enable a victorious outcome with as little bloodshed as possible, let us commit to defining and orchestrating the implementation of peaceful governance as our vote for success.

Carl Manello is a Solution Lead for Slalom’s Program Project Management practice based in Chicago who enjoys exploring how to tightly couple the art and science of project delivery with business operations. You can read from Carl on his blog.

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