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27 March 2008

On Bureaucracy versus governance; managing the balance

My proposition today is that generally bureaucracy gets out of hand as soon as you stop trying to keep a lid on it. And it is a barrier to change. That means that you have to fight it to get things done.

When you are in the projects business you are in the business of getting things done. You are not part of the normal business landscape; in fact you are there to disrupt normal business by introducing new products, tools or processes.

Bureaucracy is your enemy.

But bureaucracy is how many larger enterprises apply governance to project management. Senior managers and executives are busy with 50 or more things at any given day and your project only gets 30 minutes of their attention a week, or possibly only a month.

They have hired in systems thinkers to help ensure that you and your project team are following the right processes and ticking the right boxes on the way to project delivery. And they use those systems to fulfil obligations they have to their superiors.

Of course this can get expensive; especially in large complex organisations where everybody has a stake in your project.

How do you manage bureaucracy (and costs) down but still comply with governance requirements?

The answer found is through taking the time to understand the true governance requirements and managing ‘just enough’ reporting and governance activities to keep everybody happy.

Examples of this include
  • Creating lists rather than long descriptive documents,
  • Shortening the documents you write and investing the extra time you may have set on the document on talking with stakeholders and the project team,
  • Reducing the frequency of reports, or even changing the communications mode from push to pull (that’s putting project reports up on an intranet,)
  • And customising your reports so they are in the most useful form possible for your audience always helps smooth things along.
I bet you readers can think of many more examples.

This in no way reduces the need to communicate to all the stakeholders, users, team members and suppliers on projects. Communication is important. But this is about making space in your week to communicate by taking a smart approach to the bureaucracy.