Want more pace in your projects? Governance is the key

Increasing the pace of delivery of projects takes a lot more than just working faster.  For most projects the biggest time-thief is decision-making.  It’s not the effort, it’s the elapsed time it takes to appraise the various stakeholders of the issue, get a consensus and then transmit their response to the project. If you really want to increase pace of delivery, then it is the elapsed time-stealers that have to be streamlined… and of these, the most important? Governance.

Approvals: Bring the decision maker into the project

If you haven’t watched the 4-hour house Youtube clip, it is well worth having a look. It is a tour de force in the planning and execution of a time-compressed project.  In it, two teams compete to build a four bedroom house from the ground up in four hours.  The winner completes it in two hours 45 minutes! Yes, there are some interesting technical solutions: how do you get concrete to set in 30 minutes?

However, the single largest project management contribution to the accelerated execution was integrating the building inspectors into the project team—making the inspection process integral to the build.  The role of building inspectors, like all project approval processes, is to act like a referee, identifying, communicating, and reacting build concerns and project issues.

Usually building inspectors need to be treated as a scarce resource, and it is not uncommon for construction projects to grind to halt because the necessary approvals are outstanding. This is just as much of a problem in non-construction projects. By integrating the inspectors and the approval process, by having the necessary decision-makers on the ground, directly addresses this.

Authorisations: Clear and simple decision-lines

In the UK, a large retail group suffered a catastrophic fire, which destroyed one of its primary distribution centres. Although insurance covered the loss of stock, business continuity was threatened, the Christmas supply chain was severely disrupted! A replacement distribution centre was needed quickly if a corporate crisis was to be averted. Unusually for this organisation, the Board allocated a single sponsor for the rebuild project, who was empowered to take all the necessary decisions and resolve project issues. One of the first deliverables was a luxuriously-appointed temporary accommodation onsite for this sponsor.

He lived and worked there for the duration of the project. (Almost a year, but considerably less then the initial estimate of three years!) There was never a delay when issues arose. The project manager simply walked the sponsor to the problem and waited for the answer—the governance process had been integrated into the project. The new site was delivered and made operational in record time. As the project manager reported:

“Having the sponsor onsite was more important than any other factor in bringing this project in so quickly.”

If you can’t tackle this, you will never be agile

Those of you working in Agile environments may well find some of these practices rather familiar.  Making the product owner part of the team and ensuring that the product owner or product manager is appropriately empowered is fundamental to Scrum practices.  Such approaches directly contribute to the reduction in governance-related delays.  It’s not that governance is side-stepped or reduced—it’s just that it is done differently and quicker!

As a judge in the PMO Global Awards, I see an increasing number of PMOs tackling this tricky problem.  In fact, I would go as far as to say—where this has been tackled—then Agile is working.  Where it has not, or where the PMO does not believe they can persuade their stakeholders to come on board in addressing this, if governance is not tackled then Agile practices will NEVER have the impact that they were designed to create.

One organisation that have really addressed this is Standard Bank in South Africa.  At a recent immersion event, one of their Scrum masters described the commitment from key decision-makers to make themselves available.  On a large project, every day, the product owner, product manager, and senior architect sit in the development area and respond to any queries or issues as they arise. The impact upon pace and the motivation of the team is fantastic to see.

The project referee and the TMO

These last few weeks have been a smorgasbord of spectating for rugby fans around the world.  I have been particularly fascinated by the evolving role of the referee.  Over the last few years we have seen them take a much more coach-referee-style role; focusing on maintaining the pace of the game and its attractiveness to fans.  Rather like our building inspectors in the four-hour house example, they are much more integrated into the game-play—anticipating and taking action to prevent issues before they escalate. “Use the ball” being just one example!

When I asked one of the Standard Bank scrum masters what was the most important thing they did, the answer was clear:

“We make issues go awaywe deal with them, and let the team get on”.

Does that sound familiar?  Sound like our rugby world cup referees as they manage the game?

But in Rugby World Football 2019 there has been another change, and one not quite as popular with the players and the fans. 

For a game that started with a fine disregard for the rules, rugby has grown into one that has become irritatingly pernickety about them.”

Guardian, October 2019

The use of the TMO (Television Match Official) has increased.  The decision to refer the decision ‘upstairs’ is sometimes praised and sometimes criticised by the millions of fans watching – it seems to depend on which team you are supporting at the time!

But what the TMO does do is allow other experts, other stakeholders to engage in critical decision-making.  It provides the opportunity for a breather, for a step-back, for other factors such as “the good of the game”, “the safety of players – current and future” to be put into the mix.  It also allows space for critical, dispassionate and evidenced-based reasoned debate to take place. 

I loved the response from the Standard Bank scrum master. Whether you call yourself a scrum master or a project manager, it’s enabling the project team that is important.  But so is management oversight. It is critical if we are to ensure that decisions are not limited just to tactical concerns. And that is where the TMO comes in. If we are to ensure that stakeholders are engaging with the game, and they feel confident that they will be invited to participate at the right time with all the information they need, there must be a way to interact.

What TMO are you using in your organisation?

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