Governance and reference groups – OPEN

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Topic 2.4: Governance and reference groups

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Governance groups are also known as projects' steering committees, change control boards or project control groups.

OPEN 2 stakeholders 6-edit2

Now you may have heard it said elsewhere that, “A camel is a horse designed by a committee,” but a well-organised governance group is one way to ensure that stakeholders inform and stay informed about a project.

As such, the group is intended to be representative of all the key stakeholders, even if it is often only made up of people in the organisation delivering the project.

As the alternative name change control board suggests, this committee is primarily there to approve significant and material changes to the project’s scope, schedule and/or budget that were originally agreed to in the project plan.

Indeed, the very first job of the steering committee is often to approve the project plan, releasing resources and defining the limits of the project manager’s authority.

More broadly, they accept regular reports – usually monthly – from the project manager on progress to date, known issues, and changes to the risk profile of the project.

As such, their collective function is almost exactly that of the sponsor; indeed, the project sponsor is quite often the steering committee’s chairperson.

It is just that the sponsor takes a much more active, day-to-day role in project governance.

You should also note that it is not appropriate for the project manager to be a standing or voting member of the governance group.

The quality of the steering depends upon the members of the committee

The project manager’s role is to report and provide advice to this group; and the main purpose of the committee is to make decisions that are beyond the defined authority of the PM.

Temporary reference groups may also be convened to advise the project team and/or governance group.

OPEN 2 stakeholders 7-edit

As the name suggests, the project will refer to the group for technical or expert advice.

Panels can be drawn from key organisational staff, consultants or community representatives, depending on the problem that needs to be solved.

As such, reference groups are often ad hoc, formed in response to a specific issue or for a single purpose, and may not last the life of the project.

Larger organisations may also convene a standing reference group that covers most or all of the projects in a program or portfolio of work..

Consisting of organisational subject matter experts drawn from teams such as finance, risk, human resources, legal, media and the like, they may come together to provide advice to the project manager and/or governance group on significant decisions, or make themselves available on-demand for routine consultation and advice.

Importantly, a reference group has no decision-making authority.

That still resides in the project’s direct governance hierarchy – project team to manager to sponsor to governance group.

The relationship between these, our direct project stakeholders, is illustrated in the organisational chart shown here as an example.

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