Sunday, March 29, 2009

A bit about Governance

Governance and agile methods may seem like an oxymoron. But not so. A means to govern is essential for orderly project functioning.

Without the elements of governance in place, at the moment of need there is only a vacuum which sucks in ad hoc solutions. Agile methodologists would not argue that governance is unnecessary or without value. Agile methodologists have gone so far as to build some governance practices into the process, although the not-Agile COBIT and ITIL programs are a bit over the top for agile projects.

As an example, at the team level, the daily time-boxed stand-up meeting is a governance mechanism. This meeting regulates the daily activity and points resources to problem areas where matters need resolution. And another: once a requirements set drawn from the backlog has been assigned to a team and to a sprint, that requirements set isn't allowed to change. This practice regulates the requirement drivers for the sprint and stabilizes the scope for the duration of the sprint.

When designing a governance program, two principles guide an effective implementation:

--Every process step is lean, meaning it is as efficient of resources as possible and it is as conservative of inventory as practical, inventory being the decisions to be made.

--Each step or activity adds some value to the outcome for both those that govern and those that are governed. Adding value means bringing the decision elements into focus and then deciding.

Consider a couple of points: first, governance can be the vehicle to lift the hand of top-down supervision by conveying rights to make the call to those close to the issues; second, good governance can be the reward system for disciplined behavior, for with discipline trust follows. Trust is an absolutely necessary condition for lean governance. Without a faith in the actions of others, many resources and steps will be added to check and inspect. And think about this: the best leaders are trusted by their followers, and the best teams are trusted by their leaders. Leadership inspires inquisitive minds to question the status quo, to search for a better way, and motivates action to turn opportunity into business and organizational value. A trusting organization is a 'safe' organization. Safety to go about doing really innovative and interesting tasks is a real benefit of trustfulness and discipline.The concept of a safe organization is an important concept in the so-called human powered methodologies called Crystal Methods. Alistair Cockburn has written much about safe organizations. See the link to his material in the link list on this blog site. In the agile space 'safety' translates into more generous boundaries, and this generosity often provides the stimulus to find challenging and competitive returns from opportunity.

Although governance can be the containment mechanics for downside risks, and is very often used just to constrain actions, even going so far as putting risk management somewhat on auto-pilot by means of work flow, having a governing framework in-place and operating does put a tool in the hands of the project manager. This tool, skillfully employed, can be the process to unleash actions to find new and better means to accomplish goals, provide some degree of risk management, and bring orderly and timely decisions to bear on priorities and alternatives.

I've encapsulated some ideas for a governance program in the slideshow below. Take a look

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