This post was written by Kaba Kayembe PMP, PMI-ACP, CSM, PSM, PSPO, ITIL

There is a trend in the project management community that when a project fails, project governance is the root cause of the failure. We have found the secret sauce to project governance is a combination of an appropriate project life cycle and established governance guidelines that are documented for each phase of the life cycle.

It is important for companies to bring standardization to project management by instituting defined and repeatable processes and guidelines (project governance) for complex cross- functional projects.

What is Project Governance?

Project governance is used extensively in the project management community, but there is no clear definition of what it really means. Consequently, project management professionals are left to develop their own understanding of project governance.

To reduce this ambiguity:

Project governance entails all the key elements that make a project successful from the beginning to the end of the project life cycle.

Yes, project governance should start at the beginning of the project and should be monitored throughout its life cycle. However, project life cycle and project governance are not one-size-fits-all. They need to be tailored to an organization’s specific needs, and specific governance criteria must be created, then documented.

Why Do We Need Project Management Guidelines?

Projects are distinct from operations, requiring a great deal of creativity and flexibility. At Dwolla, we are designing and building project management guidelines that change the status quo. Project management guidelines should not be feared like a bureaucratic necessary evil—but revered, with buy-in from each project stakeholder.

To foster a collaborative project environment, we have decided to do governance in phases and have created specific criteria for each phase. We are not following that traditional initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and controlling and closing.

Instead, we have chosen the following:

We have combined “Initiate and Plan” phases because most of the “why we are doing the project and what is the business value it will deliver” is taken care of in the “Discover” phase, as it is meant for asking the hard questions.

Each organization should find what phases would work with their environment.

These phases are not meant to be sequential. In fact, they overlap; one phase can start before the other [and more]. Our mindset is to focus on value and progress iteratively with consistent feedback. By keeping the project scope practical and working holistically, we combine people with processes and tools to carry projects across the finish line.

Let’s break down each step of our project governance life cycle.


Project intake is important because it gives greater control over how we take up work and define which projects the organization decides to take on. This is crucial to making sure our projects align strategically with the organization.

Ideas presented at the intake stage become projects only after being approved by senior management. There is no project governance at this stage yet. However, it is important to make sure ideas are documented, discussed, prioritized and backlogged.
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An important factor that contributes to the success of any project is having well-defined roles for each member of the team. This helps set expectations and clearly define responsibilities.

We’ve found success designating a “project sponsor” depending on which area of the business the project impacts. This person should have a deep understanding of that area’s operations and strategy. The project sponsor has the authority to approve budgets and resource requests within their business area.

Most importantly, the project sponsor supports the project by approving critical project decisions. Other responsibilities include:

  • Vocal and visible champion for the project.
  • Confirm the project’s goals and objectives are met to ensure the project obtains the intended business objectives.
  • Ultimate decision-maker for issues that impact the business.

Any individual whose interests may be affected as a result of project execution or project completion are considered project stakeholders.

We recommend using a Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed (RACI) chart or matrix to identify the key roles and responsibilities of stakeholders against tasks within a project. This matrix is a visual representation of the functional role played by each person on the project team.

Here is an example of a RACI chart we used for a billing project:

SF Billing Sponsor Finance Team Data Team SF Team Sales Team Legal Team Tech. Leads Project Manager
Req A C C C C C I C
Deliverables A C R R C C I C
Testing I R I I I I I I
Final Approval A A I I I I I I

Project leaders put a lot of time and effort into researching the viability of their project, which is why a kickoff meeting is extremely important to communicate goals and objectives of the project.

Here’s an example of a meeting structure:

  • Project Background
  • Scope Overview
  • Timeline Overview
  • Risks
  • Roles and Responsibilities
  • Project Method and Tooling
  • Backlog

Ask yourself, does the kickoff have everything you need for a successful start to the project? If yes, let’s move on!
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Initiate and Plan

While governing a project at this stage, it is crucial to make sure the team is working toward building a schedule or a plan for the overall delivery of the project.

Risk and Issue Management

It is difficult to forecast problems that may arise, but a lack of preparation will put the project behind when risks become reality.

For years, project leaders have been trained to write pages of reports on risks. This strategy has been proven less effective when it comes to tackling risks right away as they emerge in projects. In our model, risk mitigation is more important than writing a report. The quicker a mitigation strategy is in place, the better it will be for the health of the project.

Stakeholder Engagement

The first step to good project governance is identifying all the stakeholders. This seems like a big undertaking, but is key to your project’s success. Failing to account for all appropriate stakeholders can significantly derail a project because you may be neglecting necessary requirements from an area of the business.

Key governance questions:

  • Are all stakeholders identified?
  • Are stakeholders’ expectations and requirements documented?
  • Has the project team determined how to communicate with stakeholders?

Stakeholder Communication

Once stakeholders are identified and consulted, it is important to know how to keep in touch with them throughout the project life cycle. Communication goes beyond project status; meetings and reporting are also a form of communication for a project.

Key governance questions:

  • Are there agendas for project meetings?
  • How will the team report on the project?

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Project meetings are a powerful way to communicate and solve problems. Meetings can also create a sense of camaraderie on teams, which in turn increases productivity.

What makes a meeting effective?

  • Be prepared with an objective.
  • Create an agenda and stick to it.
  • Include the right people in the meeting.
  • Start and end on time.
  • Designate a person to take notes.

Key governance questions:

  • Are project meetings effective?
  • Are you capturing action items and assigning them to appropriate stakeholders?

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Reporting in project management means providing a high level overview of the project’s critical data that is simple and easy to use. Project reporting is essential to project management success since it provides a window into what’s happening and what to do about it for the entire team.

It is important that stakeholders agree on reporting cadence and what information will be shared.

Key governance questions:

  • Have stakeholders agreed on reporting cadence and content?
  • Are reports being published consistently?

Continuous Stakeholder Feedback

The best way to ensure project deliverables are aligning with stakeholders’ expectations is to request their feedback. Stakeholders have an obligation to express what the team has been doing correctly, what could be improved and how it could be improved. By doing that, feedback guarantees the team is in line with formulated project goals and reduces the risk of project overruns.

Key governance questions:

  • Is the project team giving stakeholders opportunities to give feedback on deliverables?
  • Is the project team making appropriate changes to deliverables based on stakeholders’ feedback?

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A decision to close a project is made, when all deliverables of the project have been completed, delivered and formally accepted by stakeholders.

Without the closing phase of the project, project leaders risk important details being neglected, which can create confusion and stakeholders dissatisfaction.


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