Thursday, July 24, 2014

Backroom deals as a governance process - why not?

If governance is about making the best decisions possible, wouldn't you want to do it in the best way possible?  Wrong on two counts.

Perfect is often the enemy of good enough.  Too many process-improvement efforts come to grief on that rock, and governance seems to be particularly subject to it.  The key facts are:

  • the people who run the organization will continue to run it after the process project is over.
  • the processes they have been using got them to the top.  Why would they change?
  • they are at the top.  The process-driven offices that tend to sponsor governance efforts tend not to be at the top.  Many PMOs, most acquisition offices and almost all enterprise architect offices are buried several layers deep in the organization.  Generally, top executives aren't too excited about being critiqued by anybody, let alone some staff groups they never heard of.

What if the effort is commissioned at that highest level?  Then there is certainly more opportunity to achieve something of broad utility. But it's not going to happen by demanding that the decision-makers start managing out of a book. Once in a while a fad (remember TQM?) may sweep their preferences aside for a short time, but the central fact is that these folks got where they are by doing (largely without having to think about it) what they are doing.  The burden is on you to show how that isn't working as well as it could -- without suggesting that you are smarter than these top leaders.

The second aspect is even more important.  Governance practices are about making clear who gets to decide, how they are allowed to decide, and how anybody knows what was decided. They are not inherently going to produce better decisions, except to the extent that "sunlight makes the best disinfectant". Leaders who are accountable for their decisions tend to want to make better decisions and may be inspired to seek out the due diligence practices that "good" governance represents.   But of itself, governance is not about making wise decisions.You can have good governance processes and yet have really lousy ideas.

Which brings us to the original question: can a secretive process be the approved governance process?  Of course.  If that is the way the senior leaders are going to make decisions anyway, then why not let everyone else know and save a lot of time in pointless meetings trying to convey the impression that  some other process is going on?  Does it really matter whether a PM makes a certain presentation to the leadership group if that group is comfortable that they have made the right decision based on all the information that they have?

If you don't buy that, consider what should happen if the board thinks that the PM's presentation is flawed.  The members can only know this if they bring into the process their own knowledge or experience that goes beyond whatever the PM has presented -- and indeed they must be able to discard the information that the PM does present.  Then perhaps the presentation itself is not the deciding factor, and may be barely relevant.

Does the governance body even have to be a group?  Can a dictatorship be a governance process?  Again, well, yes.  If that is how the decisions are going to be made anyway, just say so and be done with the hand-wringing.

Whatever the method of making a decision may be, the important thing is that to make sure that everyone knows what that decision was so they can get on with executing on it.

The only "governance" practice -- well, really a non-practice -- that is NOT acceptable is a process in which people go in to the decider/s is in secret and nobody does find out what was decided.  The inevitable next step is that the next person who wants something also goes in for a private meeting and then -- at least according to them --  gets their own decision which contradicts the first decision.  From that point forward, resource contention becomes the order of the day.

Governance can work fine with a secret and/or dictatorial decision process.  But it does require that the resulting decisions are adequately publicized. Pravda, anyone?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What is this Governance anyway?

Governance.  Woooo.  Such a scary-looking word. Sort of like --- aakk! -- "bureaucracy". But all it means is knowing how the organization makes decisions. Which is not to say that it is easy to get right.

Governance is just the process of defining how your organization will:
  • make decisions
  • see that the decisions are carried out, and
  • see whether the decisions are working as expected.

What's so hard about that? As the far as the words themselves, it all sounds pretty simple. Actually doing it can be another matter altogether. That explains why organizations continue to pay whacking great fees to the usual consultants, who now form a trillion-dollar industry, to provide them for the umpteenth time with a set of recommendations, procedures and templates that are no different from what was received the first time. They are, after all, best practices - or they would be, if anybody practiced them.

What we get out of governance is the framework that makes it possible to identify the right things, exclude the wrong things, and execute the remainder effectively.

The tools of governance are also fairly well-known: strategic planning, tactical planning, budgeting, financial management, contract management, human resources, project management, portfolio management, process management. Effective governance requires several equally well-known supporting skills such as cost estimation, market analysis, budgeting, contract management, human resources, and other skills that are particular to some industries. Probably the only arm of governance that the average manager might think to be something they know little about is is business and enterprise architecture, and as we will see, they already know most of what that is all about; they just didn't know it as "architecture".

That wasn't so bad, was it?
Why would we NOT do this?
Let's get started!

Please feel free to leave a comment, and explore the rest of the governance blog series.