Bad Governance – I have the cure

Someone on Twitter pointed me to this article which contains a link to a video of an interview with Dr Jon Whitty in which he compares a peacock’s tail with a Gantt chart. Yes, I know – totally batty. But bear with me please.

In short, Dr Whitty explains that evolution has made peacocks grow elaborate and colourful tails because peahens like them more and they get to father offspring. In a similar way, project managers develop elaborate and colourful Gantt charts because that is what senior managers and project stakeholders want. It gives project managers access to their own professional peahens – bigger and ‘sexier’ projects. And it makes the stakeholders feel comfortable, gives them the feeling that the project is in control…. even when it isn’t!

I have seen this phenomenon first hand more than once. The official status reports show milestones passing or at least “percentage complete” going up, and the RAG status is always Green. Or perhaps Amber. Until the moment the situation is completely unrecoverable – meltdown imminent – days before the scheduled Go Live. Then the report goes Red. Way too late!

The primary problem can be boiled down to the fact that the governance takes place in a parallel world, different to the one the project is operating in. The plans and status reports generated by the PM are at best subjective, often biased and subject to ‘spin’ and in the worst cases, downright lies. The PM, you see, has no incentive to actually report the whole truth. He usually just wants to keep the stakeholders and his bosses off his back so he can do the ‘real work’. This is made worse by the fact that the PM is held responsible for all aspects of the projects success, but he is rarely in control of all of them and usually doesn’t fully understand them.

This is Bad Governance. It is a disease. And I have the cure.

I didn’t invent the cure of course. No, a whole group of people invented various parts of it about 15 years ago. Then in 2001 they all got together at Snowbird, Utah, pooled their ideas and called their cure Agile. Yep, the cure, ladies and gentleman, is based on the Agile Manifesto.

How does Agile – famous for having no bureaucracy and very little process – cure Bad Governance, I hear you ask? Simple. By providing two fundamental factors that enable Good Governance: collaboration and visibility. DSDM Atern takes this further by having as one of it’s principles “Demonstrate Control”.

When the project world and the world the stakeholders have sight of are one and the same, there is nothing and nowhere to hide. End-of-timebox (sprint) demonstrations are a much more factual status report than a RAG status and a report that says a milestone task has been completed. Combine demos with daily stand-ups (scrums) and a decent burn-down chart and we have fact-based reporting that is essential to Good Governance. Especially if that burn-down was generated by the checking-in of code when user stories are completed. No overhead, no ‘spin’, no biased opinion, no lies. Just the facts. “This feature is now complete”, look here it is”.

Of course, in the real world, the completion and delivery of user stories does not guarantee that the project is completely under control, but it is a start. Also essential is to provide a mechanism for others who have an interest in the project – the wider group of stakeholders – to be engaged at appropriate times and to call out problems if necessary.

It is this principle that is at the core of Good Governance.

I am now utilising the structure of a DSDM Atern lifecycle to embed checkpoints to ensure stakeholder engagement and acceptance of their responsibilities for Security, Compliance, Architecture, etc, all the things it is too easy for a project team to overlook.

Bureaucrats fear Agile. People who care that we do the right things and do them right, embrace Agile, understanding it’s inherent strengths.

Does your organisation practice Bad Governance or Good Governance?

About aterny

Agile enthusiast and evangelist, DSDM practitioner, trainer and coach. Specialist in Agile project and programme management, governance and organisational transformation
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1 Response to Bad Governance – I have the cure

  1. Chris McNicholas says:

    Totally agree and have just completed the Agile DSDM Atern Practitioner exam. What I love about it is that there’s no spin, which is where I feel a lot of PM’s will come unstuck; in the standard project world they hide information for fear of telling the truth.

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