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APM PPQ Podcast: Establish and maintain the governance structure of a project to ensure alignment to organisational practice

Tom O'Shea Tom O'Shea

Published: 19th January 2024


Hello. Welcome to another Project Training Podcast. My name’s Paul Naybour, and with me is Tom O’Shea. Say Hello, Tom.


So, we’re working our way through the APM PPQ assessment criteria. And we’re starting with one of the most significant topics in the APM PPQ course, 1.1, about governance. So, the assessment criteria are ‘to critically evaluate appropriate structures and hierarchies for a project to ensure they align with the organisation’s structure and are based on the life cycle to be employed’.

There is quite a lot in this one, Tom?
Yes, there certainly is.

So you’ve got several things in here that you must try to unpick and consider.

The main thing here is to align with the organisation structure and the project lifecycle, which will be given to you in the case study. So you’ll know if it’s a linear lifecycle or an iterative or, in other words, in more everyday language, the agile lifecycle.

Okay, but could you propose a different approach?

Given that the project is underway? It’s probably not okay; you need a strong reason for saying this is better managed as an iterative lifecycle.

Yeah, moving forward, it’s being managed as a linear project, but the nature of what we’re doing would lend itself to further development in an iterative way. Then, you could introduce iterative by stealth.

Or if you wanted to introduce it explicitly?

But bear in mind where the project is. So it’s likely that you are already encountering problems. You already have a project that needs to be fixed, probably over budget and running late. Is that the right time to formally train people in what Agile is all about?

Yeah, that’s quite an interesting comment.

Let’s unpack this more. The references to the seventh edition of Body of Knowledge in the syllabus are helpful hints and tips.

So what does that mean when it says appropriate structures and hierarchies?


There are two ways you could look at it. Consider the organisation structure in the context of the project program portfolio. So, it’s likely that the case study project you’re working on is part of a more comprehensive program. You could make a case for extracting it from the program if it’s relevant or altering it in another way.

But it’s more appropriate to think about it in terms of the hierarchy and structure of the broader organisation. So, where are your project team coming from? How has this been set up? Because you’ve walked into a project that is already underway. So, how has it been set up?

Do you have a dedicated project team, or is the work shared among relevant people contributing their skills?

Or is there a team that is assigned but also trying to do some day-to-day work? In other words, we’re looking at whether it is functional, a project, or a matrix structure and whether it should stay that way.
Or may we propose that it transition to a different structure?

Well, that’s what the assessment criteria are looking for you to do because you’re critically evaluating; after all, you’re assessing critically.

So, you’ve got to think about two ways I could structure this team moving forward.

Yeah, in this one, it’s not too bad because you usually got like, well, I could leave it as it is, or I could move to something else.


Be careful about what is, in effect, a do-nothing option because I’ll leave it as it is. Sounds like doing nothing.


And therefore, what is there to evaluate your capability and competence if you ‘do nothing’?

I will probably maintain the matrix structure that currently exists.


But I’ll put some more control and discipline around it in terms of how it’s set up.

Yeah. Okay. Okay.

So yes, the existing structure is correct, but it needs this or that change. You should be able to extract from the case and study what would help improve. So, in a matrix organisation, often the problem is people are assigned to the project, but you don’t actually have any agreement about how much time or effort they’re going to commit to it or if they’re doing too many projects all at the same time. So, well, we’ll maintain an existing matrix structure, but we need to reinforce the time the team will dedicate to this project.


More formally, set it up. You have the classic problem in a matrix structure of somebody trying to report to two bosses effectively. So if there isn’t a liaison between the project manager and the line manager, the poor old project team member gets pulled left, right and centre.

So that’s part of introducing something more formally agreed with the line manager about how much time as a PM I’m looking for from your person’s available time.


So that’s the temporary structure. Governance is about how governance should be set up here.

You may be working with a client who needs a governance structure in their organisation. So, we have to come up with a governance structure for them.


So, over here, you have some clear options. You know, sponsor and project manager partnership, just a straightforward 1 to 1 governance structure. Or do you need a project board or steering group? Who should be on that steering group, and what choices are there?

Yeah, that could start coming into this one. Still, you must avoid creeping into the following assessment criterion.

Yeah, about roles and responsibilities. That’s about roles and responsibilities and levels of authority and accountability.

Yeah. Yeah.

This one is more specifically about the organisation structure. How am I going to set up my teams within the project?


And in terms of the options, the three that we’ve talked through or the apparent ways of approaching it, you only have to provide two options. So, you know, you want to stick to those two options. But as with this and any other topic, the important thing is you need to describe what functional is, what matrix is, and what project team is.

Okay, that’s knowledge. That’s at PMQ level.

Within this one, you have to go on to the specific reasons for adopting the approach you will take within this case study.

Mm hmm.

Now, this is a written report question. So, by this stage, you’ll have gone through the first two parts of the process. So, you should already be familiar with and in the habit of giving recommendations when it’s evaluated. But in this particular case, you’re going to have to write out your thoughts and ideas around the two kinds of structures that could be adopted here and then make your recommendation on which one you will propose to the sponsor to implement.

We haven’t touched on the lifecycle because you’ve got a choice about understanding what the lifecycle is here. Specifically, you need to identify what lifecycle they’re currently following.


What steps must you take to reinforce or change that lifecycle approach? Yes. Given that lifecycle, if you are told it is being adopted here, that can influence the kind of project structure you will put in place.

Yeah. Yes.

So, would you recommend a different lifecycle from the one in the case study?

The focus of this particular assessment criterion is on the structure of the team within the project. Now, you might recognise that moving forward from this point onwards, it would be more appropriate to adopt a different kind of lifecycle. So maybe things have been done so far in a linear way, and you think the nature of the product we’re developing could be more iterative. We might consider that part of how somebody sets up a structure. That might be part of why you’re proposing a particular option.


So, if you could make the case that moving forward, the lifecycle that’s been applied so far has been relevant, but I would envisage it evolving. Therefore, I will structure my team around what I see happening over the coming weeks in terms of how the project will develop. Thus, we need to move towards a more iterative approach. I suggest this particular team structure.

Okay, good.

So, let’s just move on to the next one, which is about establishing roles and responsibilities as critical. Evaluate why and how to establish roles and responsibilities. Relationships within a project ensure authority and accountability accepted by individuals within the project team. So this has got two elements. It’s about establishing those roles and responsibilities and then acceptance. People are good at establishing accountability but not so good at accepting individuals. How do you make sure that people accept those accountabilities, you know?

So approaches, what might we consider here?

Well, there are two aspects to it, really, aren’t there? There are the formal documented elements of roles and responsibilities and allocation. And then there’s the people side of things.

Mm hmm.

So the formally documented part might be about simply reviewing organisation, hierarchy, and who’s in the team, do they look like they’ve got the right skill sets. I’ll allocate this work to them.

Yeah. So that’s one.

It’s a straightforward way of going forward and simply sending work instructions or whatever to individuals. When the case study, would you actually think about who should be doing what responsibilities, like specific characters? There won’t be or is unlikely to be sufficient information to say that this person should do that task.


But what you can do is say, this is the approach I would take is to go through the organisation chart. I’ve started to learn who the individuals are. I can map people to work.


You can suggest the approach without having to name specific individuals. You will have some of the more senior people in the organisation charts. So, there might be a case for introducing some of those people into the project. But remember that you’re coming in as a contract project manager. Are you now going to start getting a head of department to report to you? Hmm. Probably not. So what you have to think about is, given I know the areas of work and I’m establishing the teams that should be involved, my next step is to have that discussion or two to sit down and do a desktop exercise. So that’s one way of doing it: simply look at the available people in their skill sets and then map them to the work. You could further develop that into an RACI. So you can set out clearly on a RACI diagram who’s doing what and their authority levels. So whether they’re accountable or responsible. But the other part of it is, as I said, the people’s side. So it’s one thing to issue a work instruction to you to do something, but if you are not bought into it, if you don’t understand the relevance, if you don’t think it’s appropriate to you, if it’s not a priority to you, it’s not going to get done. So the other part is sitting down with people in a workshop or perhaps 1 to 1 and discussing the roles and responsibilities needed in the project and which ones you can take on. So that gives you two options.


Of critical evaluation, Yes.

So, evaluate which is more appropriate here. Is it, is it better for you. Is PM to do that desktop exercise of looking at roles and responsibilities and mapping them across, or is it better for you to get the team together into a workshop, discuss the role definitions and get people to accept and buy into what they’re doing?

I’m just launching a rebranding project here, and I’ve been totally autocratic; I’ll just tell people what they will do.

There’s a time and a place for it.

Yeah. Yeah. Well,
I wrote a project management plan as an initiative, but I’ve asked them whether they want to do it, giving them the choice to say yes or no. But we have a workshop, you see. So we’ve got a workshop on Friday to go for it with everybody.

So, it would help if you had a bit of both, mainly depending on whether it’s a different position. Suppose you’re coming in as a contract project manager. In that case, you probably need a more consultative approach and a less autocratic approach.

And that’s a theme that applies through many of the different parts of the assessment: You’re coming in as an external contract project manager, you know, seconded into this organisation.


So you need to think about how you’re going to get the organisation to adopt these great processes and take. And tools that you have experience in them they’ve never really used.


So it’s one thing putting the systems and processes in place, but the other part is winning the hearts and minds of people to ensure that there’s buy-in and commitment, taking into consideration the stage of projects and the problems they’ve already encountered.

Yeah. It could.

And can we just move on to the last one because we were doing quite well for a time?

Could you critically evaluate ways to establish and maintain the reporting hierarchies and structure during the life of the project?

I think we’ve all been here where we started the project and have good intentions. We’ve drawn an organisation chart, we’ve done a RACI chart, and we’ve circulated it. But then people just don’t do it, and we don’t maintain it. We don’t embed, and we don’t review it as a project moves forward. I suspect that’s what this is about here, isn’t it?

Yes, it is. Absolutely. Just what it’s not about because of this. This has happened in the past, and people are falling into misunderstanding this. It’s not about the levels of report that you send internally, as in a progress report that goes to the team or is shared with the team and a report that goes to the senior management team. This is about the lines of reporting.

Yes. Yeah.

So it’s keeping with the theme of the previous to that. It’s about roles and responsibilities and accountabilities and how they can change during the life of a project.

So, how often do people or project managers actually write or draw a RACI? They put it into their project management plan and never look at it again.


This is about saying, well, the project is going to progress. You’re going to get more people coming in at different points. You’ll get other people dropping out and new ones coming in. So your roles, responsibilities, and RACI will change.


As you get to certain parts of the project, the nature of your work will alter; therefore, you might need tighter or looser control regarding reporting. So then you’ve had previously. So, if an exceptionally critical part is coming up, like safety or legally challenging areas, you should introduce tighter controls and different reporting.

So, introducing somebody into the hierarchy who perhaps wasn’t there before could be appropriate to do so. What are you going to do to maintain your reporting structure and hierarchy to keep them appropriate to the governance of the project and the organisation? Yeah, I mean, the best example of that is when you bring in the main contractor to do some work, you know, build it project or construction project. You go from that sort of small team to a point in a main contractor.

Yes. You clearly, at that point, need to review your whole reporting arrangements and what our hierarchies are.


Now, you know, you mentioned reporting, actual progress reporting. This is an important point, actually. Let me check this? That’s an important role in supporting the maintenance of those accountabilities. So by sitting around the table with everybody and saying, have you done your work package each week? You’re reinforcing those accountabilities in the RACI chart. But it’s not it’s support this objective. It’s not what this objective is about.

Yes, absolutely.

So, if you never do the RACI chart, you’ll never return to the responsible person and hold them accountable. Then that’s not going to maintain those hierarchies you established on that piece of paper.

You bring them to life, don’t you? You do? Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. Good. Yeah.

So, there are three learning outcomes.

The first one is quite broad and is about how you fit your governance structures into the governance structures? In the case study, recognise the type of organisation, whether it’s a sort of dedicated project team, a matrix or a functional team. And what sort of overall governance structures should you wrap around that team?


The second one is how do you define and develop the responsibilities of those individuals within that team and aspects, including the sponsor and project manager and work package managers, etc., and RACI charge will make doing that both for terms of reference is another way of doing that, you know, just to be, you know, formal the organisation is on

Third, how do you review, establish, and maintain those accountabilities as the project evolves and grows? And how do you keep people focused on their accountabilities as you deliver the project?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

And it’s going to be written. So you need to be precise because you won’t get a friendly assessor like you saying, oh, actually, do you want to just do that again, Paul? Or explain that slightly differently.

You have to write this out. So yeah. So within the, yeah, part, you could get some follow-up probing and clarifying questions. But as you said in this, you don’t know what this is. One of the homework in the course. The sample questions are ones that people get to do in the course anyway.
So. So. Yeah. And which do you get feedback on?

Then, there is the opportunity to discuss it virtually later as well. But no more plans for this one, too, which I don’t know if that helps because people copy the model. And that’s what you need to be careful of with model answers. So yeah, people go, Oh, I’ll reword it. But you are going to learn only some of the answers. You’re going to do that for only some of them. But it’s a different case study in the actual project. Absolutely. Yeah. Great. Thank you very much, Tom. Thank you.

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