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IT delivery problems? Try governance assurance

I’ve been writing regularly about the value of governance assurance in IT delivery. But let’s take a minute to examine that word, assurance. What exactly does it mean?

Merriam Webster defines assurance as a “certainty of mind,” or “confidence of mind or manner,” and “freedom from self-doubt or uncertainty.” Feeling assured in oneself means having confidence or certainty in your own abilities. In an organizational context, operating with assurance means feeling confident about your roadmap, your ability to deliver and your strategies for managing change.

In past posts, I’ve argued the benefits of involving third-party experts in your governance assurance practices. But if assurance is confidence, you may wonder how someone on the outside looking in can help nurture such a fundamental attribute within your organization? The answer is, by helping you see your business in a new light, glean new meaning from your data, and think through a broader set of possibilities.

It may be cliché, but it’s also true – so-called “outsiders” can help you think outside the box.

The role of governance assurance

A quick review: to ensure successful delivery, most IT projects of significant size (or those that span multiple functional areas) have some sort of governance or oversight committee made up from stakeholders within the organization. Besides someone from IT, the committee includes members from the business groups driving the project, other business groups that will be impacted, the operations team, etc.

Often, these oversight committees struggle to be effective for two key reasons. First, committee members don’t show up consistently. Either they are just too busy, or they don’t feel that meeting attendance is a valuable use of their time. This is especially true when the project is on track or only affects their own team peripherally. Often, no one thinks action is necessary until the project itself or their own bottom line is in trouble.

Second, the oversight provided is too high-level. Project teams don’t provide the governance committee with enough data beyond a Red/Amber/Green status report, so members don’t know the nitty-gritty details. Without that essential info, they’re unable to generate in-depth discussion or insight.

Which takes us from governance to governance assurance. This is a role that's most effective when taken on by a “non-voting” committee member, meaning they attend and contribute to project governance meetings, but they're not a decision-maker on the project.

Instead, the role of governance assurance is to:

  • Analyze the overall delivery process, the delivery team and the project objectives to identify strengths and weaknesses, and warn of potential pitfalls based on data gathered from surveys, past projects, and industry trends

  • Test project status reports to ensure they accurately reflect where things are

  • Survey members of all the functional areas impacted by the project, gathering the perspectives of not just the delivery team, but also the executive team, various business groups, testers, technical support –everyone– to get a complete picture of the project before, during and after delivery

  • Help keep the governance committee effective and accountable by ensuring balanced representation, prioritizing attendance, interpreting data, guiding discussion as needed, and documenting outcomes

Governance assurance focuses on assembling a complete picture of project delivery. By enabling you to survey the landscape before rushing into the wilderness, it helps ensure your path will be strategic, not haphazard.

Confidence from certainty

It might help to think of governance assurance as a 360-degree assessment for your delivery process. The more perspectives you include, and the more angles you investigate, the better the assessment will be.

For example, a 360-degree review process might reveal that someone known to management for consistently getting results has been doing so at the expense of a healthy work environment. This otherwise hidden detail is important because long-term damage to morale will have a tangible cost on the business.

Similarly, governance assurance addresses imbalances on the project level. For example, a project team might be hitting their delivery targets each week, but looking beyond the “green” status reports will reveal that they’re doing so only by working overtime, struggling to hit every milestone. A clearer understanding of project scope and impact will help ensure realistic expectations. And these incremental improvements at every turn are what produce a superior product overall. Take Keith Daly’s commentary on cognitive diversity in today’s workplace. Daly, Chief Claims Officer for Farmer’s Insurance, highlights the necessity of embracing diverse perspectives to drive innovation. By now, we all know it’s true – new perspectives, fresh ideas and a diversity of thought keep businesses – and their IT organizations – relevant and pushing forward.

They also breed confidence. Strategies developed with input from across the board stand up to scrutiny from various angles. Combining the insights of an experienced delivery expert with the perspectives of front-line contributors means your solutions will be less susceptible to surprises down the road.

The point is that governance assurance is about knowing. Knowing with certainty that you’ve done your due diligence, knowing all voices are represented, knowing your choices are fact-based and goal-driven, knowing that someone is looking at the whole picture and can course-correct before things go off the rails. Knowing that you have explored every angle and consistently made the best choices for your organization and the solution you’re implementing.

By spending some of your contingency budget on governance assurance, you’ll gain confidence in your delivery plan by having it reviewed and vetted by an experienced delivery professional who can take into account your entire delivery portfolio and the cumulative change risk your business will face. You can be sure that you are effectively escalating the right risks and are able to diversify your problem-solving abilities when issues arise.

You will also have a mechanism for anonymous feedback directly from your delivery team, enabling greater visibility into front-line struggles. Let’s face it, some feedback you will only get when anonymity is possible. And the benefit grows when your governance assurance officer is a third party, as employees feel freer to provide honest feedback without risk of repercussions.

By showing team members at all levels that you are actioning their delivery pain points, you’ll create an environment where contributors feel heard, valued and invested in success. And it’s undeniable that engaged teams deliver better results.

At its essence, governance assurance enables more confident delivery by helping to ensure that what you are delivering addresses why a solution was needed in the first place, while ensuring how it gets delivered doesn’t negatively impact who your organization counts on day in and day out.

Finding the right voice

When filling a governance assurance role, it’s important to find someone who can lend a fresh perspective. Someone with experience delivering the size and scale of projects you’re undertaking and managing the associated change. Sometimes, that person can be found within your organization. Often, success requires bringing in an independent consultant.

Whether you’re seeking governance assurance on your largest project or across your entire portfolio, strive to create an environment where diversity of thought fosters deeper conversations, more-informed decision-making and ultimately, better delivery.

Let us help you find the right voice to add to your IT governance and boost your delivery confidence.

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