For the last few weeks I have been posting about general principles of governance. Let’s turn to a practical example: How do those principles apply to programme management? There is of course no one ‘right way’ – it depends on the context. However, there definitely are ‘wrong’ ways, and they are all too common!
Most programmes have a Programme Director, and most have a Programme Board. What are their roles, and how should they be related?
The Programme Board should be a fundamental part of the governance structure. There would be no point in it being there unless it makes decisions. To do that, it must be given authority by some other body, which must itself have the authority to do that. Programme Boards typically have as part of their role resolving cross-functional issues for the programme. Consequently, they will normally be set up to report to a committee within the governance structure which itself has cross-functional representation. If the Programme Board is unable to resolve an issue which comes to it, normally its parent will need to. If a Programme Board were to report to an individual, it would be hard to see how that individual could more effectively resolve any cross-functional issue that had to be escalated.
The Programme Director’s role will vary in detail between programmes, but fundamentally he or she is the person accountable for making sure that the expected outcomes of the programme are delivered within the constraints agreed. That leads us to two further points.
First, if they are accountable, who will hold them to account? That is another part of the role of the Programme Board. The Programme Director will present progress reports, papers for decision, etc to the Programme Board, to enable them to do that. A corollary is that the Programme Director should be appointed, or at least confirmed, by the Programme Board, which will also delegate authority. If things are not going well, it is the Programme Board that must decide whether a change of Programme Director is required.
Second, what is the nature of the relationship between the Programme Director and the Programme Board? Essentially it is like a contract. The Programme Board is the customer for the programme, approving the programme requirements. The Programme Director represents the delivery team – the contractor, if you will – and needs to make sure that sufficient time and resources are allocated to the programme to deliver the requirements. Clearly making the two join up may require negotiation. If there are subsequent changes to requirements, agreeing how to accommodate these – extra resource, recognising more risk, delay or reduced quality – will require a further negotiation. Remember, accountability and authority need to go together.
Just as with the CEO and a company Board, it is clear that the Programme Director has a fundamentally different role to that of the Programme Board, and to blur these distinctions will introduce conflicts of interest. Of course the Programme Director will normally attend Programme Boards, although that does not mean that they have to be a member (and the different roles are clearer if they are not). Either way, though, they should never be the Chair: they would have a clear conflict of interest. At best they would be tempted to steer the agenda away from certain issues, and it would become impossible for the Board to be effective in holding them to account. No-one should be asked to mark their own homework!
It follows that the members of the Programme Board should not normally be junior to the Programme Director, and certainly should not be his or her direct reports. Of course there is a place for meetings of the Programme Team – but those are progress meetings, not Programme Boards.
Do your Programme Boards follow these rules?