Project Governance In An Agile World – Part 2

by | Feb 12, 2021

This week we move onto Muller’s second chapter in Project Governance: Objectives and Institutions. Here it goes into detail about how projects are temporary organizations. As we did last week, we will go through the ideas detailed in the chapter and see what similarities, minor and extensive variances it has with agile delivery.

A project team’s definition as a temporary organization is that they have an end product that will meet the organization’s strategic goals. So, therefore, the project would have its strategic plans to meet. It all builds on one another. As we look at agile delivery, there are some similarities. In agile teams must have identified goals in what they are to deliver. It creates a charter that determines the purposes that are common within the organization, project and agile team goals.

The difference here is the size of the charter and how often they are changed. An organization charter can be extensive as it is supposed to guide the enterprise as a whole and rarely have changed unless there is a change in strategies. A project charter is variable based on the actual size of the project. It could be one page or over 20. In a traditional waterfall project, this is one of the first things created and signed off. Once signed off, very rarely are there any changes, or change requests, as project teams and Steering Committees will push forward. An agile team’s charter is very small, team-driven and should be regularly updated to meet the team’s needs to improve continuously. 

There is either an organization, Project Management Office (PMO) or Steering Committees, giving guidance and providing governance to all projects in traditional projects. Muller goes on to detail how the project manager is the CEO of the project. Along with insurance of continued alignment with strategic and tactical goals tieing in the available capabilities. Due to this, there is a set of governance needed to control and make the appropriate decisions. For most organizations, this train of thought tends to remain in the delivery methods after an agile transformation partly because the “Command and Control” mindset is difficult to change over when in actuality, it should be the easiest. The main reason it is not, lack of trust.

When you look at the stated objectives, we can see how the mindset change with an effective agile transformation change management process.

Muller details that project governance includes:

  • Fostering an environment allowing projects to be successful.

  • Prioritization of projects for the best use of resources

  • Identification of projects in trouble: Rescue, suspension or termination of those projects as appropriate.

This set of guidelines are very similar to agile delivery. Servant leaders provide the environment, Product owners prioritizing features based on client needs, identifying issues or risks and dealing with them. The rescue, suspension or termination are different flavours of decisions on current work. Depending on the framework, there are various ways for teams to go about this.

Next, what could give insight into why most “agile” organizations struggle with the transformation and fail to mature.

Now we go into traditional organization institutions that are a function of governance.

  • Board of Directors

  • Portfolio Management

  • Sponsors and steering groups

  • Program Management

  • Strategic PMO

  • Management

  • Tactical PMO

A Board of Directors in an organization is a staple. They are there for multiple sets of reasons, with compliance being a big one. They are there to set the decisions on strategy and direction. For projects, they focus on the value and if it meets the needs of the strategy. In an agile environment, it is similar, just in a faster turnaround. Taking part in demos, reviews and provide insight on priorities for teams to work. The main difference is to allow the teams to get the work done and not remain a “Command and Control” style in the development. That tactical view takes away from the strategy and potentially miss market opportunities.

To no surprise, the remaining groups are on opposing sides of the spectrum compared to being agile. They are very “Command and Control” heavy, focusing on the basic three tenets of Project Management: Scope, Costs and Schedule. Now there are components within the remaining chapter that are transferrable to agile. There is a need to determine what projects or work to complete. With prioritization and understanding of the value, it has a faster turnaround in an agile environment. In a waterfall environment, it is like trying to turn an aircraft carrier on a dime. The reason? Look at the levels needed to go up to get a decision? Also, imagine the projects that could be going on and at what point they are in development? 

There is also the use of Green, Yellow and Red statuses for projects. Now, could this work in an agile team? Not really, it would be a bit of a waste as the team is on working together to deal with risks, to report up and potentially wait for a Tactical PMO to give a decision is some red tape that bogs everything is done. These traditional project groups and organization set up is what negatively impacts an agile transformation from succeeding. That is not to say there is no need for some or all of the groups. It is about a mindset change along with ensuring the value is there. Some components can work as there is still a need for governance. In the manifesto, it doesn’t say to reduce it. The first value states: 

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

What needs to be clear is that there is still a need for processes and tools. The statement does not say ignore processes and tools. As discussed here, there are some similarities, yet there is a change component with behaviours that need to happen here and not just one or a set of teams to go through an agile transformation.

Want to discuss more Objectives and Institutions for project governance in an agile organization? Understand what needs to change to achieve exceptional delivery value, whether it is a product or service? Book a complimentary Breakthrough Call now to continue the conversation.

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