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Three ways governance makes the future of projects better

Rethinking governance for better project outcomes

With rising distrust from customers and society and an increased scrutiny of capital allocation, many progressive organisations are rethinking governance of their projects.    

Executives who usually kept themselves remote to the challenges of individual projects are finding they need to have a more active role in integrating the challenges of project portfolios and are finding ways to bring new innovative practices to their teams.

The executives from progressive organisations* we spoke to highlighted 3 ways they are focussing on better governance in projects:

1. Creating new conversations 

The conversations at a governance level are changing as the complexity of projects is increasing. Boards and steering committees responsible for governance report they examine issues not only of an organisations capacity to deliver but are spending more time debating whether the right projects are being prosecuted given the challenging and dynamic environment that the organisation is confronting. A senior executive from construction recognises the way major projects are being evaluated and reviewed is drastically evolving:

We have a process at the board level, which you can call an ethical filter. We choose not to pursue certain projects because of the potential impact to the community and the environment.

Our interviewee also pointed to how more regular committee and board meetings around key projects and transformation program milestones are helping executives become knowledgeable about the portfolio of projects, allowing them to have more detailed conversations around a range of elements including community interfaces and issues of regulation. 

2. Becoming dynamic and engaged 

With projects increasing in size and frequency, our interviewees emphasised that their organisations have enhanced their oversight and governance, to ensure they identify problems and risks early. The significance of these projects for owners requires engagement at board level to support better oversight. More accessibility of information is also seeing boards embrace the knowledge and expertise of their leaders and teams and referencing them at future milestones. A senior executive from the energy sector notes:

“Now every time the board meets they sit down with the extended project team and have a deep dive for two hours. This is unprecedented in terms of board engagement with the company.”

An infrastructure project executive explains that there is increasing accountability and responsibility around projects across all levels within the organisation, which contributes to more time to execute projects better, noting:

We are using a matrix of people and systems- based approaches to determine the right commitment for projects.

3. Keeping governance lean

At the same time as project teams are engaging more in depth with boards and other governance committees, organisations recognise governance needs to be lean rather than bureaucratic and time consuming, yet sufficient enough to allow independent growth and progress on projects whilst staying true to mission and overall objectives.

Traditionally governance has been tiered to varying levels of project size and risk. Progressive organisations are going beyond this to understand what governance will enable the project to deliver the outcomes they are after, whilst staying within the risk appetite of the organisation. ‘Lean governance’ is not a tightly prescribed model but a principle when these organisations intentionally strive to create a governance environment that is fit for purpose. As a senior resources executive explains:

Governance needs to be lean enough that you’re not overcooking it but it needs to be sufficient to allow it to ensure that you’re staying true to mission and that you’re able to support the project given that it’ll be time bound.

Progressive organisations have identified that the future of successful projects relies on better governance, through leadership as well as structures. The role of individuals as well as executives are being revamped to tackle the tide of a connected market, with rising trust issues and rapid pace of change and uncertainty. These organisations are focusing on having the right conversations at the board level all the way down to teams and employees to identify what needs to be done.

Having new conversations, becoming more engaged and dynamic, while keeping governance lean are some of the ways that organisations are moving forward and tackling future change and uncertainty. They are using the expertise of their employees and project teams to build a better governance structure, allowing their teams to have more autonomy and ensuring they stay true to mission. These organisations believe that in a rapidly changing world a more dynamic, progressive and engaged governance will lead to successful projects and programs. 

Read the full paper here.

This article was written by Professor Suresh Cuganesan,  Chief Executive of the John Grill Centre for Project Leadership at the University of Sydney and Professor at the University of Sydney Business School.

Suresh specialises in the areas of strategy execution, organisational design and performance measurement. His area of focus is on how public and private-sector enterprises can improve their achievement of policy and strategic goals through being better aligned, collaborative and innovative.

* Progressive organisations recognise that the status quo is not an option and are building project and change capability to find new ways to deliver strategic outcomes and value and help navigate their challenging and dynamic operating environments.

Our network of progressive organisations with international and domestic presence we spoke to both the public and private sector, including ANZ, Bank of Queensland, Broadspectrum, Exxon, GE, Lendlease, Mirvac, Telstra, Woodside, WorleyParsons, and state and federal government entities.