TOP Project Governance = Knowledge and Knowhow

The High Cost and Risk of your Unknown Unknowns

First the BAD news

All of the major project disasters of the past 30 years were overseen or ‘governed’ by otherwise competent executives who did not know what to do or how to act as their project failed.

They were ‘fish out of water’ in the project governance arena. Some even had project backgrounds and still did not know what to do in a ‘governance’ role.

High cost

Billions have had to be written off as a result of failed projects.

Even more billions have been wasted as failing projects are continued until ‘something’ is scrambled over the line and some sort of ‘victory’ is claimed.

Over all of these projects sat business executives who did not know what to do to save their projects and the associated business value. This all-to-common situation is expensive, wasteful and high risk.

When executives and managers are appointed to a project governance role no automatic bestowing of governance knowledge happens. Most executives and managers have a 40-40-20 knowledge of project governance.

  • They know 40% of what they need to know.
  • They think they know another 40% of what they need to know – but how sure this knowledge is, is not clear and needs to be confirmed or corrected
  • And they don’t know 20% of what they need to know. But they don’t know what this ‘unknown unknown’ knowledge is.

High risk

In a project governance role not knowing what you don’t know, and not knowing what you do know that is incorrect, puts your career and reputation at risk.

Your unknown unknowns are also a great risk to your organization’s future performance as your projects will underperform and not deliver the results desired.

The most common unknown unknowns start at the basics. For example, most people, including project people, cannot define ‘Project Governance’ and therefore don’t know the boundaries, accountabilities or ‘rules of the game’. And the assumptions made, often based on their operational-role experience, take them off in the wrong direction – as we’ll explain.

To illustrate this lack of basic knowledge: thirteen organizations bid to train executives in Project Governance. Five organizations were shortlisted to present their credentials. Only one organization (TOP) was able to answer the first question posed, “What is Project Governance?”

This means that at least four and potentially up to twelve organizations bidding to train executives in Project Governance could not define it! So, if you’re struggling to define it, you are not alone.

But, if you can’t define it you cannot perform it effectively. And if you cannot perform your project governance role effectively your career, reputation and credibility is a risk.

The intended shift

You should note that project governance was ‘invented’ in the 1980s to shift the blame for project failure from the project team to the business. The theory was that, if you could get the business to make the key project decisions, if anything then went wrong downstream the accountability would go back to the business and not the project team.

Nice try – but most organizations still blame the project manager even when it is not their fault.

But now help is at hand.


Now the GOOD news

The good news is that it really isn’t that difficult to fix this knowledge gap – but the knowledge is not self-evident and is not based on operational management techniques.

A different knowledge base for different results

Project governance is NOT the same as operational management.

There are many myths and misnomers surrounding project governance that can easily mislead those in governance roles.

Project governance is a knowledge set that needs to be learned.

When you do learn and do know what you need to know, you can be highly effective and deliver your projects and programs faster and at less cost.

Perhaps more importantly, you can deliver your business’ desired outcomes, improvements and results faster and at less cost.

When you can consistently translate your project investments into the desired strategic results you can make your own operational role easier as you are reaping the benefits of your projects rather than living with the consequences of poorly delivered projects.

Boral, a multinational building supplies company, made it a policy that all executives were trained in project governance when they were appointed to a project governance role. The firm also had their major projects assessed by external parties for their health and effectiveness. These external evaluators consistently scored Boral’s project governance as ‘5-out-of-5’ (the first time the external evaluators had given this score). Meanwhile, Boral eliminated failed projects.

Boral was not suddenly operating with different managers, just project governance informed and supported managers who had eliminated their unknown unknowns and now knew what they were doing, why, when and how to do it.

They say, “Knowledge is power” – in this case it is the power to be effective and ensure the delivery of your own and the organization’s planned strategy and results.

Imagine if you knew that you had eliminated your unknown unknowns and were totally confident that you could address any issue that arose on your project so as to deliver your desired business outcomes, benefits and value in full – what would that feel like?

Business-based governance knowledge and knowhow

Based on over 40 years in the projects arena and over 20 years governing projects from a business perspective, TOP has developed the most comprehensive collection of project governance knowledge and knowhow that eliminates your unknown unknowns and provides support to your project governance roles.

To illustrate Unknown Unknowns you may have, we discuss the top five most common unknowns (which, we warn you, include some very radical insights you need to know).