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Project management

Your quick how-to guide to effective project governance

DJ Waldow 6 min read
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Decisions, decisions, decisions.

According to the Harvard Business Review, “making good decisions and making them happen quickly are the hallmarks of high-performing organizations.” The authors continue, “decisions are the coin of the realm in business. Every success, every mishap, every opportunity seized or missed is the result of a decision that someone made or failed to make.”

But who ensures “good decisions” are made, and made quickly?

It all starts with project governance.

What is project governance?

“Good project governance is the secret weapon of effective project-based organizations,” say the folks at the Project Management Institute.

According to A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), project governance is an “oversight function that is aligned with the organization’s governance model and encompasses the project life cycle.”

Let’s break that down a bit.

Oversight function: every project needs a project owner with some type of accountability and assurance that proper steps and protocols are taken throughout the project.

Aligned with the organization’s governance model: a project must live within the framework of the overall structure of the entire company or organization.

Encompasses the project life cycle: this oversight must apply to the entire time the project is running.


And a solid project governance framework begins with a stable foundation.

What are the 3 pillars of project governance?

This “stable foundation” of project governance is often referred to as the three key pillars — structure, people, and information.

Structure (or project structure): one leg of project governance is the structure. For any given project, the organization’s overall structure and business environment need to be supportive. In larger organizations, “structure” can be formal — a variety of boards and/or high-level committees (Capital Expenditure Board, Steering Committee, Project Management Office, etc). In smaller companies, structure may be limited to governing bodies such as project teams and auditing groups.

People: successful project governance arrangements means the right people are in place. The people leading these various boards, committees, and governing bodies—including each individual project manager—are critical.

Information: finally, open communication and the sharing of crucial information support an effective project governance model. Regular, consistent reporting, as well as constant “audit” check-ins, are important to ensuring project success.

With the three pillars in place, it’s now time to review the various roles that make up the project governance framework.

What are the various roles in a project governance framework?

Project sponsor.

Project manager.

Project stakeholders.

These are the three roles in a project governance framework.

Your quick how-to guide to effective project governance

Note: there can be other ancillary roles, but these are the main ones.

All projects start with a project sponsor. This is the person (or sometimes a group of individuals) who ultimately owns the project and is responsible for the overall success of the project. They sit “above” the project manager and help ensure the project is aligned with the business strategy. The project sponsor is often a senior executive on the team and sometimes sits on the Board (often as the Chair).

The project manager (PM) reports directly to the project sponsor and is responsible for the day-to-day tasks, duties, and overall management of the project. The PM leans heavily on the project sponsor when it comes to clarifying the decision-making framework and for escalation points above their control.

Finally, the project stakeholder. These are individuals or groups who are directly affected by the outcome of the project. Stakeholders care deeply about the success of the project, but are not involved in the daily tasks. It’s important to identify all stakeholders from the outset of the project and keep them engaged through the project close.

All three roles exist within a project governance framework and all are equally important to ensure effective management and oversight of each project.

Why is project governance important for a Work OS? is a work operating system (Work OS), a cloud-based software platform where teams build custom workflow apps. It allows teams to plan, run, and track processes, projects, and everyday work.

Project governance is a cornerstone to any effective Work OS.

Project governance is one of the seven critical capabilities of a Work OS. It is an essential component to limiting team micromanagement and instead, empower employees: “governance and permissions within the Work OS help you set team members’ roles within workflows and processes – and invite external partners to contribute when necessary.”

While project governance is important for a Work OS, applying effective project management governance to a project in any environment is beneficial to its success.

PMI includes the following four key benefits of project governance:

  1. Single point of accountability;
  2. Outlines roles, responsibility, and relationships among project stakeholders;
  3. Issue management and resolution; and
  4. Information dissemination and transparent communication.

How is project governance different from project management?

The phrases project governance and project management are sometimes used interchangeably. This is understandable as they are similar in definition. However, the two terms are really not the same.

Governance: the act of governing; to steer, guide, control, regulate, and influence.

Management: the act of managing; to be in charge, to lead, supervise, manage, and monitor.

Steering, guiding, and influencing (governance) are not the same as leading and supervising (management).

If you think about the terms from a government and business perspective, respectively, they can be easier to conceptualize. Governance is “what Governors do” and management is “what managers do.”

Project governance happens largely outside of the day-to-day of a project. The oversight function is the key. The goal of the framework is to increase overall project success — much like the Governor of a state in the United States of America may do (replace “project success” with “State success”) — increase the overall success of the state.

So again, while some people think of the terms project management and project governance as comparable, you can see they are quite different.

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DJ is a freelance writer specializing in all things words. He's a father of 4 (including twins), husband to one, and an alum of the University of Michigan. DJ is a self-proclaimed giphy master and #HashtagAddict.

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