Project Governance In An Agile World – Part 3

by | Feb 19, 2021

This week we start to get down into the weeds of project governance. The previous weeks looked at a broader view and incorporated it all in an organization-wide view. In the end, that makes sense. As discussed in previous blogs and our hosted webinars, an organization should be viewed as an organism that has all components in sync to evolve. It is a matter of how everything is behaving to keep things in sync, or will there be areas of control? Whether obviously noticeable or subtle. Either way, it can have an impact on an agile organization.

As we begin this chapter, it discusses the three pillars of project management based on A Framework for Building Successful Project-Based Organizations by Miller, R and Turner, J.R. in 2007.:

  • Education

  • Management Demands

  • Perceived Economic pressures

Education is a key component of being agile. Without the constant learning and adapting, the agile methodology used will be no different than “Waterfall.” Just a step by step fill in colours way of building anything. Unfortunately in the book focuses on the project manager who needs to be better educated. They are emphasizing the PM to get the project done.

This type of thinking can be seen in job descriptions for agile coaches, scrum masters, and agile project managers. Organizations put too much emphasis on these roles to be the ones that have a successful project. Yes, their roles are critical to helping the teams, yet it is not up to them alone. Building the education of the team is what leads to success at being agile. The expectations of having a coach or scrum master to know everything takes away from the team.

Management demands

This is purely a “Command and Contol” component. Discussion of management telling the PM how the work is to be done. Now there are parts where it could lead to guidance or direction, but the content on steering committees and Sponsors leads into the fact that the teams are there only to build.

Yes, in agile, there are priorities and changes expected from stakeholders over time. That is what we want to occur. Without the behaviour change to understand the expectations of what the teams want to see from leadership to allow them to get the work done on their terms will only suffocate any willingness to innovate. It is about meeting the clients’ needs and doing it effectively and efficiently. That should be the management’s demands while giving them what they need to achieve it, not by telling them how to do it.

Perceived Economic Pressure

Economic pressure is constant with any organization, and everyone feels that pressure. How all stakeholders handle, it is what is different between traditional projects and agile projects. With the Iron Triangle of “On time, On a budget and scope,” the Project manager feels the most pressure as they are the ones that are in front of steering committees explaining what is going on. While in an agile environment, there is more transparency and available information to have as close to real time data to make decisions.

Unfortunately, most organizations that move to agile delivery keep this pressure from the top down. Senior leaders do not take advantage of the transparency or become transparent with the work that goes on.

As we go further into the chapter, we see more discussion on “Command and Control” activities. This would make sense as the book’s focus is to have projects identified as small organizations within the overall organization. When most organizations complete an agile transformation, they only focus on the teams’ framework while keeping everything else intact.

Continuing through the framework, it continues the focus of individual responsibility and not teams. Let’s look into the Organizational context within Muller’s book to see if we can find the root cause of issues organizations will incur with attempting an agile transformation.

There are 9 steps provided within the framework, and they are built on the “Iron Triangle” foundation (Time, budget goals). Within these steps, there are a lot of similarities to being agile. There is a focus on learning, improving and determination of how the work is to be done. The difference is that traditionally most of those decisions fall under Steering committees, Project management offices and or leadership as they work with the project manager, not the team.

There isn’t one way to complete project work that will work for all. Muller describes how organizations need to understand that although one path is successful for a competitor, it does not mean it will be for them. This goes for any way an organization develops projects or provides services, whether traditional or agile.

Going forward, we will be going deeper into roles for governance. Previously there were four paradigms for Project Governance: Flexible Economist, Versatile artist, conformist and agile pragmatist. By the end of this series, we hope to develop additional paradigms that can consider organizational agility.

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