Agile Project Management Governance— Can It Be Done?

18 Mar 2019

At first glance, agility and governance may seem incompatible.

The main concern is that traditional approaches to project management are a better fit for the supreme goal of governance– closely overseeing projects. They are its natural home because they allow managers to easily recognize when the project is going astray and make changes accordingly.

It is true that this kind of governance is much harder to apply to iterative workflows. However, as you are about to find out, agile and governance are not fundamentally opposed. There is a way to combine and gear them both toward improving the end product.

So, how do you do agile project management governance without messing up either, or both?

Getting familiar with the basics

One cannot hope to do successful agile project management governance without a deeper understanding of what Agile is all about.

First off, note that Agile methodology represents a system for delivering incremental and iterative products/services. It encapsulates short, time-framed bursts and inspect-and-adapt cycles. On the other hand, agile refers to a specific mindset and organizational culture.

In this sense, we are talking about a set of principles, behaviors, and cultural elements that add value to the company and lead to better project oversight.

Secondly, you need to distinguish between project governance and project management. The former prioritizes oversight and control, while the latter promotes freedom of self-management. Both aim for the same goal, but they take different routes to it. This is the main cause of friction between them.

Revamping governance

So, to really move forward, you might have to rethink your governance and leadership styles. The ultimate trick is to align two disparate models: inspect-and-adapt and inspect-and-approve.

Furthermore, it is crucial to realize that governance is not inherently bad per se. It is just that agile works better with lightweight models of governance instead of “hardliner” ones. In other words, your project governance must not interfere with how you run projects just for the sake of more control.

To ensure this, negotiate expectations with all stakeholders up front. Gain support for delivery teams: the higher this support runs in the hierarchy, the better it is. This prep phase is a prerequisite for cultivating a positive business change, which entails delivery teams collaborating, self-organizing, and delivering value.

agile governance

Extracting value

Once that is sorted out, recognize what agile governance can do for you.

On a broad strategic scale, it enhances the ability of organizations to adapt to continual change. It sets simple and clear guidelines and facilitates the coordination of different teams. The main objective remains the same as with any form of governance: the project must not deviate from goals and structural standards.

Speaking of which, the chief goals are to:

Governance and accountability structures are supposed to help steer organizations in direction of desired outcomes. What is more, Agile revolves around making frequent, sound decisions and doing it at the right level. There are formal review checkpoints and gates at the end of each stage of the project.

Practical application

Done right, agile project management governance fosters high transparency, lively collaboration, and open communication. Companies that adopt it are able to do away with barriers to knowledge sharing and form organizational silos. Therefore, agile management tends to elevate team morale and improve workplace relationships.

After all, it is obvious from the get-go how the success of the project will be assessed and what is the minimum viable product. Roles and responsibilities are clearly defined. Each corporate layer possesses the necessary tools and is in control of its own performance. There is a great deal of trust and teams that are invested with decision-making authority.

Senior management delegates responsibility to lower management levels. This allows delivery teams to be empowered and encouraged to exercise self-management. Employees collectively decide how to go about tasks and continually improve velocity.

A measured approach

Agile governance establishes performance metrics for the purposes of self-monitoring, which is rooted in the governing principle of “fail fast and learn quickly”.

In other words, agile governance uses empirical data to lay the foundations of perpetual fine-tuning of scope, budget, and timeline. However, documentation is just one piece of the performance puzzle. This way of doing business requires one to factor in actual behaviors and practices. So, transitioning to agile governance means you value discussion over documentation.

discussion over documentation

For good measure, the process of assurance and approval also includes system/consumer acceptance testing and a set of visual tools. They aid in progress status appraisals and enable senior management to gain deeper insights into projects.

Although you do not have to ditch all your reporting mechanisms right away, agile governance goes beyond conventional reporting and information reviews. Namely, it is all about direct observation and grasping the context.

Accountability still lies within delivery teams, while company leadership assumes a major role in nurturing learning agile culture for the whole organization.

Tying it all up

Traditional governance focuses on minimizing the discrepancy between the actual baseline forecasts.

Conversely, agile project management governance takes a different approach. It accounts for the possibility of surpassing time or cost tolerances. This means that delivery teams may choose to de-scope according to product priorities or iteration backlog. Feedback loops embolden everyone to examine and evaluate work done so far.

Once a meeting comes to a close, everyone commits to decisions that were reached. These decisions should help you gradually refine your programs, processes, and projects. You also need to be able to scale up and down as needed, staying on top of shifting consumer needs.

Yes, there are so many bases to cover when reconciling agile and governance, but it is definitely doable. Once you get your first project through checkpoint reviews and gates, things get much easier. Favorable results and established trust propel your forward.


Agile project governance is the fast lane to getting the most value out of team efforts. Organizations that follow its principles are responsive to change and keep all stakeholders on the same page.

But, there is one problem and it is related to the difficulty of executing its implementation.

To make it happen, open the lines of communication and spur employee engagement. Regularly assess how teams are doing and make adjustments on the fly. Remember that it all boils down to effective decision making. Likewise, you have to equip teams with everything needed to get the job done.

It is time to get ahead of the game!