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Governance committees that actually work

Corinne Forrest | July 10, 2014
Some project governance committees really do work. Stop laughing. I've seen some outstandingly effective committees that contribute to organisational value and make everyone's life more productive. No really, quit laughing now.

Meet by exception, people are busy

Committees can't function when their members are spread too thinly. Meet by exception when a project, program or portfolio is operating outside of its delegation or if something important is happening.

Put strict limits on the number of project boards, investment and IT committees on which executives and senior managers can serve. Spell out expectations about how much time the committees will require.

It's often helpful to have term limits on individual committee service based on the requirements of the project.

Give good chair

At the meetings themselves, the chair ensures good discipline, sticking to the agenda and keeping to time. The chair is often a project sponsor so it's essential that he or she is trained in both sponsorship and chairing duties. Good chairs keep meetings centred on decisions and action and facilitate the decision-making mechanism.

The chair ensures that matters discussed and decisions made are strictly within the authority of the committee. Finally, the secretary should record decisions, communicate the relevant action items and time frames to all concerned and ensure follow-up.

Some committee meetings quickly degenerate into talk fests and socialising. Even those that ostensibly focus on business matters can get on the wrong track.

At the logistics company, I found that its executive committee devoted 50 per cent of its time to informing members of new developments and only 10 per cent considering investment and transformation decisions.

After implementing some strict committee guidelines, the executive had the space to solve higher-value problems, devolving detailed analyses and decision-making of how to implement its massive transformation program to "lower" governance committees.

A well-functioning governance committee requires eternal vigilance but it shouldn't be difficult.

Aligning its structure, processes, culture, appointing the right chair and limiting committee members to only those can make a contribution, means quick, effective decision-making and members that feel they're actually getting something done. It's no more involved than making the process routine.


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