Looking at Governance Through a Human-Centered Lens

Looking at Governance Through a Human-Centered Lens

Insights | 14 November 2018

Connecting the daily practice of governance with an in-depth academic research report may seem unlikely. However, one study is linking the two in a meaningful way.

Consider this perspective[1] on the future of agile governance, titled the “State of the Art of Agile Governance: A Systematic Review”. Highly relevant for anyone concerned with doing governance right, it focuses on six “meta-principles”. Taken together, they form a compelling call-to-action for “a more resilient and flexible paradigm” around the topic of governance.

Here are the meta-principles:

  1. Defining “good-enough” governance
  2. Making business-driven decisions
  3. Keeping a human focus to your governance
  4. Achieving quick wins
  5. Leveraging systematic and adaptive approaches
  6. Designing simple, iterative solutions

The authors argue that these principles can influence an improved practice of agile governance across a range of industries.

Let’s discuss each in further detail:

Good-enough governance

Make no mistake, this is not about lowering standards to achieve “good-enough”. Rather, the authors argue that agile governance must respect its environment. If something is “extra”, is it worth it within the unique context of your business, your industry and your time frame?

Business-driven decision making

True agility, they argue, comes from a “cohesive organisational awareness”, where business and team are strategically aligned. Think of how you can incentivise decision-making that considers the direction of the business. The goal is for “each decision, design and approach to satisfy business requirements and priorities.”

Human-centered governance

Governance initiatives cannot become divorced from the human need to derive meaning from their work. It’s imperative, these researchers say, to create “effective mechanisms” that support relationships, as well as “communication and collaboration among people.” There is much more to explore here. One key point that is crying out for deeper scrutiny is how the current discussion around governance centers more on “structures and processes” vs. people. The authors are not alone in this outlook. Many writers and thinkers within the discipline of project and programme management are calling for a more people-centered approach, including the UK government.[2] A salient point was made that governance is inherently a “people” responsibility and falls to those who can make the decisions and assure delivery/quality.

Quick wins

Attaining “quick wins” is an oft-repeated bit of advice whenever starting a new job as a leader or tackling a new project that might have some naysayers. What this meta-principle means in this context is that energy matters: “The ‘positive energy’ coming from these victories must be used consciously in the feedback and motivation to the team to continue development of the governance initiatives and, therefore, should be valued,” the authors write.

Adaptive approaches

Change is, of course, the only constant. Why would governance be exempt? The authors’ advice is to focus more on adapting versus predicting based on past results.

Iterative solutions

Wrapping up these six meta-principles is the concept of applying an iterative approach to governance. This is a key consideration within the scope of good, agile governance. Small and simple takes precedence. In their words: “… It is better to do something simple that generate results immediately and pay a little more to improve it at the first opportunity (by means of a possible rework), than doing something complicated with a high cost of time and other resources and end up losing the timing of the change in the business.”

In all, these authors make a compelling academic and practical argument for everyone to begin laying a stronger foundation to the art and science of agile governance. Interestingly, they also put forth the idea of establishing a dynamic Governance Body of Knowledge like the now-iconic Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®). Whether that’s the right path or not, it’s certainly one way to establish shared understanding around excellence in governance.

All growth in this field will require more than just academic research. Layering on more discussion and sharing around what’s working in real-world contexts will create the fullest picture possible.

If you or your organisation requires assistance with portfolio governance, contact us today on +65 6818 5771.

[1] https://arxiv.org/pdf/1411.1922.pdf
[2] https://digitaltransformation.blog.gov.uk/2014/06/24/governance-principles/#right-people
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