Project Governance

Project Governance Sounds Important – But What Does It Actually Look Like?

Governance is a buzzword that naturally sounds like something pretty relevant, maybe because it reminds us of government or of the verb to govern. However, many people would find it difficult to explain what governance is in practical terms. On an organisational level, most of us may see governance as a board of directors making difficult and strategic decisions aiming to make the business successful.

That is not wrong, but governance also involves processes and controls to ensure that the appropriate group of people have the level of authority and the information needed to make the right decisions to benefit the organisation’s stakeholders—with focus on the shareholders’ interests. But how is the governance cascaded down to the non-C-level layers of the organisation?

The Promise of Governance

More than 10 years ago, I was leading a team of project managers, business analysts, and software developers when a group of consultants gave us a presentation about IT governance—more specifically about the COBIT framework (2012). It was full of meaningful and inspiring ideas. That framework would provide us with a set of good practices to help us in linking business goals to IT goals. It would include ways to control our work and to assess and improve our maturity. It would even define responsibilities for process owners within both IT and the business. They had a perfect sales pitch! Nevertheless, after we signed the check, it took us a while to learn how much time, focus, effort, and executive support those beautiful ideas would require from us before becoming something operational.

A couple of years later, I was working more focused on project portfolio management and project governance. I noticed that both project governance and IT governance have similar objectives in terms of making IT and project management serve the business in a more strategic and effective way. Therefore, the importance of project governance to make project, program, and portfolio management successful became gradually clearer to me.

The Connection between Governance and Effectiveness

I started to find links between the ineffectiveness of governance and the widely known issue of projects failing in large numbers across multiple market sectors. Everywhere, we could hear about deliverables being rejected by clients, milestones being missed, project outputs being never used by the business, budgets being suddenly cut down, project managers not being involved at all with benefit realisation, etc. At that time, business managers did not care too much about ROI or benefit realisation, and we could see project management executives just wanting their clients to request more and more projects, so that their teams would have work to do.

Fortunately, over the last decade, the project management profession has been changing quickly towards making project, program, and portfolio management more effective in delivering strategic value to organisations. It happened mainly because organisations need project portfolios to be more effective in creating strategic value to thrive in a very competitive market. Evidence of benefits realisation management and project governance improving the probability of strategic project success has been found by my academic research (Serra, 2012) and by a few other non-anecdotal publications that are based on reliable research. In such an environment, professional associations such as PMI (PMI, 2016) and the British APM (APM, 2014) have been investing heavy efforts in the development, improvement, and dissemination of good practices related to governance and also to benefits management. Therefore, this change of scenario has gradually made clearer to practitioners that the link between business goals and project goals is a critical success factor (CSF) for projects, programs, and portfolios, and is consequently a CSF for strategy execution.

Project and IT Governance Together

As happens with IT governance, the successful implementation of project governance requires a lot of time, focus, effort, and executive support too, and it is surrounded by dos and don’ts. In this scenario, project portfolio management and benefits realisation management are toolsets that support effective governance. Therefore, both sets of practices are significantly important to ensure that portfolios of projects and programs are successful in the creation of meaningful and strategically aligned value to the organisations.

If you want to hear more about project governance and learn some practical aspects and critical success factors for its implementation, join us in the ITMPI webinar Project Portfolio Governance: Providing steer for the creation of strategic value to the business on September 28, 2017.


Serra, C. E. (2012). The influence of Benefits Realisation Management on the success of projects in Brazil, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. London: Association for Project Management. Available on September 3rd 2017 from

PMI (2016). Governance of Portfolios, Programs, and Projects: A Practice Guide. Project Management Institute. Available on September 3rd 2017 from

APM (2014). Directing Change – a guide to governance of project management. London: Association for Project Management. Available on September 3rd 2017 from

ISACA (2012).COBIT 5: A Business Framework for the Governance and Management of Enterprise IT. Rolling Meadows, IL: Information Systems Audit and Control Association. Available on September 3rd 2017 from


This article was first published at the IT Governance Journal website and at the Accelerating IT Success website, on 19th September 2017.

More on project governance, benefits realisation and project portfolio management is available in the book ‘Benefits Realization Management: Strategic Value from Portfolios, Programs and Projects‘ from my authorship and published by CRC Press (Taylor & Francis Group) in September 2016.