Governance: An Overused Word, or Something Worth Talking About?

Mark Mullaly is president of Interthink Consulting Incorporated, an organizational development and change firm specializing in the creation of effective organizational project management solutions. Since 1990, it has worked with companies throughout North America to develop, enhance and implement effective project management tools, processes, structures and capabilities. Mark was most recently co-lead investigator of the Value of Project Management research project sponsored by PMI. You can read more of his writing at

“Governance” is one of those delightful, fifty-cent, multi-syllable words that consultants, managers and up-and-coming strivers like to bandy about to make it sound like they know what they are talking about. It is also one of the most widely misused words--if not concepts--currently employed in organizations. Why this is, what it means (and doesn’t) and what it should represent are what we’re going to explore.

For reasons that are no doubt meaningful to some, there has been a great deal of debate of late regarding what “governance” is, and what role it plays in project management, if any. An example is a recent survey done as “research”; it polled a group of directors and a group of project managers on who was responsible for “governance”. Not surprisingly, the directors said it was only the domain of corporate directors (this being what they do and all), while the project managers viewed it as being variously the role of directors, senior executives or the senior management group (no doubt thinking about who actually sits on their steering committees).

My issue with the findings outlined above is that the authors ask two groups a question, get a different answer and conclude that one of the groups is right while the other is wrong. Asking a question looking for a specific answer isn’t research; it&…

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