The art of seeking approval

While industry best programme and project management practices promotes the importance of defined governance structures for the programme and project boards and teams, with defined roles and accountabilities for business, user and supplier interests, it’s very common in most organisations to find programme and project managers seeking the signatures of several different roles when seeking documentation approval. 

Often programme or project management methodologies used by an organisation is unfairly blamed for being over bureaucratic despite the corporate governance structure and underlying culture, supported by senior management, that has the most influence on the efficacy of the programme and project approval process. What’s important to highlight is that seeking approval is not a substitute for effective consultation, particularly with programme and project management documentation. Naturally key stakeholders and subject matter experts should be consulted prior to the development of any programme or project artefact and information to avoid any costly rework and delays. Templates have their place to support a defined programme and project management process with an organisation but they need to be adapted to suit the individual programme and project characteristics that make it unique. 

What’s often forgotten by programme and projects is the need for approval should only be sought from the key decision making role, ultimately accountable for the success of a programme or project. While the many hands approach no doubt helps when delivering the programme and project outputs, capabilities, outcomes and/or benefits, the same cannot be said when seeking approval. While Portfolio, Programme and Project Management Offices (PMO) may straddle between the paradox of supportive and restrictive to rightly protect the investment from failure, their role should be to advise and inform the development of programme and project information. Fundamental to this mindset and culture is the adoption of the six agile governance principles for agile service delivery developed by the UK Government but applicable to all effective governance processes (Agile or otherwise). They are:

1. Don’t slow down delivery
2. Decisions when they’re needed, at the right level
3. [Decisions made] with the right people
4. Go see for yourself
5. Only do it if it adds value
6. Trust and verify

Most programmes and projects will have a variety of stakeholders with different and sometimes competing interests. These individuals and groups can have significant influence over the eventual success or failure of the work. As such, programmes and projects need to learn to effectively manage not only the relationships with those impacted by the intended business change - the customers but also those that support the delivery of the programme and project through its lifecycle. 

If a clear governance structure exists, then it assumes the project and programme manager role has sought or been provided by a PMO with all the necessary information, particularly by those representing the user and supplier interests, to be able to develop a well-informed programme and project artefact with the required information for the key decision maker to make an informed decision. After all, how many signatures does a programme and project document really need, when the one with authority and ultimate accountability will suffice? Sometimes it’s important to remember the art of simplicity - maximising the work not done - is essential.



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