Houston, We Have a Governance Problem

Joe McKendrick recently reported on a quote of mine from a podcast I recorded with Dana Gardner in both his eBizQ and ZDNet blogs. In the discussion, Dana asked me a very good question on what the telltale signs are that an organization is missing the governance boat. Now that I’ve had some time to think a bit more deeply on this, I’d like to expand upon my original answer.

In the podcast, I suggested that one telltale sign is that you are in meeting after meeting with people disagreeing over priorities. I still stand by this, although I’ll say it’s probably more likely that they’re saying, “This is what I want” rather than “This is what my management told me is my priority.” When governance is really bad, people don’t know what the priorities are, and as a result, they fall back to their own interests, which may or may not be the best interests of the company as a whole, if anyone even knows what that is.

Another telltale sign of a governance problem is when people outside of project efforts have nothing but criticism for the people working on projects, and the people working on the projects have nothing but criticism for the people whose jobs lie outside of project efforts. It could be the workers versus the managers or the developers versus the architects. Whoever the two (or more) parties are, it’s clear that they’re not working effectively, and one possible source of that is ineffective governance.

How about consistency? How many times have you heard someone say, “We need to be more consistent in how we do this”? Once again, this can be a governance problem. Has someone defined what consistency is? What are the policies that people should be following? It’s easy to point out that something is done differently every time, but it’s difficult to articulate one way that it should be done, and to then get the people to actually do it that way. Keep in mind, however, that not everything should be consistent. There are some things that should change every time, and some things that shouldn’t. If we attempt to apply consistency and standardization in the wrong areas or across the wrong domains, we could wind up making things even worse.

Finally, the biggest sign has to be a general feeling of being on a sinking ship. While this can be due to far more than governance, if your efforts are consistently viewed as not good enough, and everyone knows it, then it’s very likely that there’s a governance problem.

There has to be many more signs that people can add to this list. Please add a comment or trackback with your telltale signs of ineffective governance. And, if these signs are hitting a little too close to home, I can recommend a good book.

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