Pragmatic Governance in Agile Projects

Pragmatic Governance in Agile Projects


Governance is a key aspect of any project execution for bringing out clarity on roles and responsibilities, providing visibility on the progress/health and ensuring that effective decisions can be taken to build confidence amongst the stakeholders.

The purpose of having a project governance structure is to improve the collaboration between various teams, make processes stronger and ensure that performance and progress are being tracked regularly.

However, the project governance becomes a daunting task (either in traditional or agile approach) when it is not contextual; but is too prescriptive without understanding the goal of setting a particular structure, process or framework around the project management practices. A common example is creating a RACI (Responsible- Accountable-Consulted-Informed) matrix for the tasks to be accomplished and the individuals who own these tasks. It is often seen that if RACI is not used effectively it becomes a barrier to smooth communication as individuals become very concerned and cautious about their tasks.

The essence of RACI is lost when teams do not collaborate well and do not co-create and co-own the goals. In such cases, the performance of the team merely depends upon few specific tasks/outputs which become their evaluation criteria.

It is very important to understand that the governance is meant to improve people’s participation and not to create silos of responsibilities and accountabilities. In the traditional style of project management, the governance is assumed to be enforced in a much tighter manner as compared to projects executed in Agile manner where governance is embraced for bringing better outcomes and impact through the underlying values and principles of flexibility and adaptability.

Creating the balance

In fact, the TIA pillars (Transparency, Inspection and Adaptation) popularly known as the Scrum pillars provide enough governance structure for review and improvement in Agile execution. Building additional layers of governance over it may not provide useful results unless there is a manufacturing defect in the organization and its people (pun intended :)). Teams and organizations transitioning to agile ways of working often find it hard to differentiate and create a balance between dogmatic and pragmatic thinking.

Iterative and Incremental Delivery

The crux of the governance does not lie in the tighter control and monitoring; but providing necessary tools and structure for removing impediments and delivering value iteratively and incrementally. There could be scenarios where regular monitoring may be required to closely evaluate and measure the results. For example, a patient whose current health conditions are the critical parameter for deciding the medication. If the health conditions are getting adverse, the medication may require changes and, accordingly, the governance structure for improving the health, processes, and performance. The effective governance may require more of intrinsic changes as compared to extrinsic ones which are crucial for the successful delivery and benefits realization.

Hybrid Approach & Strategic alignment

The hybrid approaches to project management provide better options to manage the projects as they do not depend on a single framework for sustainability. The strategic goals of an organization need to be aligned with the strategic objectives and the projects undertaken. The relevant stakeholders must be involved in achieving these objectives. For example, a strategic goal of improving the customer satisfaction cannot alone be achieved by the producer or the vendor unless the customer provides its feedback and participates in the evolution of a product or a service.   

The onion diagram (on the right) shows that how you can align your strategy with the initiatives at team, project, program, and portfolio levels. The flow of governance varies at each level and it is quite natural to adopt a holistic and pragmatic approach to understand the dynamics and expectation for seamless integration.

The outcomes at the team level would be way different than the outcomes at the project or the program level; but the underlying organizational goal would remain the same. It is for this very reason that the governance and its impact on the outcomes require an alignment between the different layers of management and how the larger organizational goal will be achieved with the help of people, process, and the enabling technology.

The team backlog may be much smaller as compared to a project backlog; since there could be many teams involved in the accomplishment of project objectives. Despite the size of the backlog, the goal of delivering the value will not change as the initiatives have been selected based on the strategic objective.

Implementing pragmatic governance in the changing landscape is no more an option. Whether it is about managing agile projects or projects with typically fixed scope, cost, and time, one needs to have a pragmatic view as the internal and external forces are going to change the plan and the context. Every project is meant to implement the change that often requires learning and experimentation. The governance structure must be agile to allow for these changes to assimilate and tracked in respect of strategic objectives to ensure that right coalition is formed across the organization and team’s deliverables.

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