Team governance models and traditional relationship based governance models

Firms spend significant time and energy to manage strategic priorities, keep operations functioning and optimally managing project delivery. Traditional hierarchical functional governance assumes that each functional manager makes informed decisions about her or his function, but what happens when project work crosses functional boundaries? Who make the decisions strategically, operationally and tactically?

In our experience, we have found firms that employ team governance models that conform to program portfolio management (PPM) principles and practices are more efficient and deliver more consistently on enterprise benefits than models that center on the deployment of traditional relationship governance roles.

First, we will describe the team model as it relates to PPM (program portfolio management) organizational deployment and then contrast this with the traditional relationship role-based governance model.

A team PPM governance model construct typically includes the following characteristics:

  • PPM team governance model:  Assumes that there is organizational cross functional teaming and collaboration, consistent execution of process management with use of standard communication channels and decision tools.
  • Definition of projects: Strategic planning defines the work that is being planned for, when, and by whom? It assumes that there is a teaming effort to collect project planning assumptions, conceptualize them into an annual operating plan and roll-up information at a strategic level into a long range plan. Performed correctly, this defines the requirements necessary for enterprise groups and functional leaders to articulate the plan, spell out the intent of project work both for the forthcoming year, and the longer term.
  • Ownership of projects: A collection of related projects is called a portfolio. Projects that relate to a portfolio are earmarked to start in the forthcoming year and are included in an annual operating plan. A sponsor is the project executive who owns the project. The sponsor focuses on validating project details with a project owner. In addition to a project owner, more often than not, a project manager may be appointed to help justify the support the project receives. Business cases are formally documented project details. Business cases get reviewed by sponsors, project teams and senior management stakeholders to justify projects. A symbiotic relationship exists between the sponsor and the project owner to ensure consistency in project definition, approach and understanding. Furthermore, the project reporting process is managed by a program management office (PMO).
  • Origination and prioritization of project work: In order to validate new work requests a project intake forum is established to review ideas and project proposals. This formal forum includes a group of senior stakeholders who review and ultimately prioritize ongoing work against new proposed work.
  • Teaming: Teaming is when key stakeholders convene in the three project management forums: 1) Strategically, senior management convene in a “Steering Committee or Team”; 2) Operationally, a “Working Group” is comprised of a team of project sponsors and functional stakeholders that include the PMO who discuss and agree planning and execution tactics: and lastly, 3) Tactically, a “Project Team” is comprised of a project manager who convenes team members, subject matter experts and project delivery workers in the management of a project.

What does a role-based relationship governance model look like?

The BRM (business relationship manager) is a role that is sometimes employed organizationally to take ideas, manage requirements and work closely with technology and business leaders to manage strategic and project delivery expectations.

BRM’s get involved in high-level requirement discussions. BRM’s are typically charged with understanding scope, gathering details and focusing on the strategic benefits a project will deliver. The BRM works closely with planning groups to discuss strategy, review ideas and newly proposed projects. These ideas or projects get documented in an intake process and get proposed by the BRM to a steering group, or a functional leader. The BRM is then expected to work collaboratively, albeit separately with a team of project managers, client business subject matter experts (SME’s) and sponsors in the development of a justifiable business case.

While this role is consistent with traditional governance line responsibility in managing client relationships, it is in direct conflict with the functioning of a modern-day project team-based organization…

What is at issue is that relationship based governance models typically support strategy to execution in siloed organizations, whereas today, most organizations have moved away, or are starting to move away from silo-based relational models to hybrid or pure PPM governance models.

The following characteristics define relationship based governance models:

  • Relationship based governance is mostly found in organizations that are functionally silo’d. Silo’s exist when internal organizational functions maintain boundaries, spend a significant amount of time preserving the functional identity of its members, and may be less inclined to collaborate with dependent functions. Hierarchical layered functions are often siloed organizations with some or very limited cross-functional teaming comprising functional group representation. There is a tendency to be less formal when it comes to BRM’s in their dealings with steering groups, project delivery roles, and project coordination. BRM’s tend to maintain a score-keeping and translation identity between technology and business functions.
  • Relationship challenges: The BRM role has overlapping responsibility with the following project based roles: 1) Sponsor (project and portfolio oversight), 2) Project Manager (for execution), 3) Agile Product Managers (for scope and compliance)
  • Decisions: Decision rights get blurry when a BRM makes project level decisions that impact project sponsors.

Should roles overlap, what should enterprise architects consider and what benefits can one expect from a PPM governance model?

Team-based PPM considerations include:

  • Formalize PPM relationship management: Technology and business relationships are coordinated and managed via PPM forums, namely; 1) senior management oversight in a steering or governance group; 2), program and PMO support in a working group, comprised of project sponsors, PMs and the PMO, 3) collaborative cross functional teaming at a project team level.
  • Appoint the Project Sponsor early on: If possible, as early as possible in the process, make sure the sponsor takes full responsibility for project strategy and execution, this is to help keep the focus on successful project delivery outcomes from day one.
  • Appoint the PM early on: The earlier the project manager gets appointedis involved in scope definition, gets to own the project execution and gets guidance and support from the Sponsor, the greater the opportunity for project success. In our experience, we have seen project managers offer less commitment if they inherit projects along the planning lifecycle instead of before the development of a business case.
  • Avoid relationship role appointments: Where possible, avoid the appointment of BRM roles as they are duplicative and overlapping to traditional project portfolio management roles and responsibilities.

Possible enterprise benefits and impacts:

  • Streamlined, consistent PPM principles and practices: When introducing formal PPM principles and practices, be sure to tie methodology to strategy and execution, keeping it streamlined, less complex and agile within an enterprise PPM and PMO framework. In addition, by maintaining repetitive consistency in strategic planning and execution helps to ensure that project delivery becomes more predictable, transparent, is more accurately measured with better management of client expectations.
  • Institutionalized roles and responsibilities: By institutionalizing formal forums of PPM with steering, working groups and project teaming, certain expected benefits can be realized including, but not limited to, project ownership, accountability, enterprise value realization and project transparency. This includes: 1) Ensuring project sponsors own and are accountable for projects from strategy right through to execution. 2) Strategic planning is aligned with execution, and not treated as a separate forum. 3) If BRM roles are embedded in a silo-ed organization, the relationship responsibilities should be incorporated into sponsor roles and responsibilities.
  • Synergistic output and improvement: In our experience, work is performed in teams. Ongoing team engagement in a collective forum promotes synergistic idea generation, knowledge sharing and coaching benefits. Each team member may contribute more than expected in a collective collaborative environment. Synergistic team output or contributions may exceed more than the sum of the total team members due to synergies gained from all contributing parties; for example (1+1+1=5) In contrast with two people meeting in a one-one setting; for example (1+1=2), the outcomes could be limited, and this may dilute the number of improvement recommendations made and possibly the ability to drive process, project or organizational changes.

Written by Terry Coull. Terry is a management consultant focusing on transformation and continuous improvement in technology today. This is part 3 of a series of informative team-centric leading practice white-papers.


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