Effective IT Governance

On Twitter, Scott Ambler (@scottwambler) posted:

Effective IT governance is based on motivation and enablement, not command and control.

At first glance, it would be hard to argue with this statement. In general, most people don’t like command and control, and who wouldn’t prefer the carrot over the stick? Having thought a lot about governance (and written a lot, too hint, hint) I had to go deeper on what effective governance really entails. I’ve seen situations where a command and control governing style has succeeded and ones where it has failed. I’ve seen the same thing for motivation and enablement styles, as well. So what really is the key?

In situations where things turned out good for the company, it was because the organization, as a whole, all saw things in the same way. They understood the strategic priorities and goals and balanced these against departmental or project priorities goals in an appropriate way. Where things turned out bad is where those priorities and goals were not well understood, if they even existed at all. In other words, everyone had their own opinion on what the right thing to do was. In general, people always had good intentions with the decisions that they made, but the criteria they decided to use to choose the best approach was not consistent from person to person or team to team. In the absence of this understanding, neither command and control or motivation and enablement will fix things. Put in a bunch of commanders that don’t have a shared understanding, and you get a power struggle. Likewise, if we simply try to remove barriers and “enable” people, that is not going to help when accomplishing goals involves cross-project or cross-organizational efforts.

To have effective governance, you must first have clarity and a shared understanding of the goals and strategy around your efforts. If you don’t have this, then you may need to begin with a heavier command and control approach to not only get the word out, but to ensure that it sinks in. Once you build that shared understanding, a shift to a focus on enablement is certainly in order. If the understanding has taken root, people don’t need to be controlled anymore, and that should be your goal. Along with this, however, your people must be able to recognize when things fall into the grey area. As part of being enabled, there needs to be a trust factor that people will make those grey areas known to the command structure, even perhaps with options that look at things from both a micro and macro level. The command structure, in turn, must make decisions in an efficient manner, and then work its communication processes to augment the shared understanding in the organization.

If I had to put effective IT governance in a nutshell, it’s all about communication. If you communication is great, which means that you effectively communicate not just the direction but the reasons behind it, and you have a feedback process for discussing it with people who may disagree with it, you’re likely to have effective governance.

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