Project Governance: How a Neutral Party Platform Promotes Organized Success

Jenny Vodvarka Shafae
Project, facilities and operational governance is an extremely valuable service for complex projects and programs. In order to be utilized effectively, the service must first be understood.

A Simple Definition

The subject of project, facilities and operational governance will often elicit the same question: “Is this included in a standard suite of project management and project controls services?” While it is true that governance is related to these core services, it is a different service entirely.

Governance is the process for making and implementing decisions. The goal is to help stakeholders achieve the best possible value from their facilities management and construction governance processes.

Unlike program management and project controls, governance focuses on the interplay between stakeholders and service providers potentially across multiple, concurrent engagements, often in the same environment.

The Value of Governance

No one questions the need for dedicated quality assurance / control on construction projects once they reach a certain level of size or complexity, even though everyone—from the laborers to the superintendent, from the project assistants to the project executive—would affirm that quality is a priority for each and every team member. While all of these project roles contribute to quality outcomes, it is important to have someone solely dedicated to quality assurance where there are so many other priorities to monitor. The entire team is responsible for quality, but the Quality Control Manager is the ultimate authority, holding others accountable and reconciling disputes should any issues arise.

Just as the Quality Control Manager ensures that quality project outcomes are realized and the Safety Manager enforces procedures to promote well-being and minimize risk, the Governance Manager serves as the independent arbiter of best practices in enterprise-level contract administration and program management. Unlike program management and project controls, governance focuses on the interplay between stakeholders and service providers potentially across multiple, concurrent engagements, often in the same environment.

When is Governance Necessary?

The need for strong governance is particularly great among organizations with multiple interdependent campus environments, where hundreds if not thousands of facilities management, life safety, infrastructure improvement, renovation, interior build-out, and new construction projects are occurring in several locations simultaneously.

For publicly owned companies, particularly those required to comply with stringent governmental regulations, governance is essential.

For the last two years, I have worked in the pharmaceutical sector at the U.S. headquarters campus of a biotech firm in the San Francisco Bay Area. I am part of a team of nine governance personnel charged with the oversight of regulations, policies, processes, and procedures in use across all of the facilities projects within this million plus square-foot campus, with some reach into projects taking place on the company’s five (5) other major locations nationwide.

As you can imagine, a workload of that magnitude can become untenable for even the best-managed, most sophisticated organizations without a team solely focused on communication, collaboration, and issue resolution. With all of the layers of management, siloed practice areas, conflicting priorities, and overlapping areas of responsibility—not to mention the sheer geographic challenges of working within an environment of this size—the necessity and value of governance starts to become much clearer. For publicly owned companies, particularly those required to comply with stringent governmental regulations, governance is essential.

Sample Tasks Summary

Now that you have a high-level understanding of what governance is and the value it can provide, here are some highlights of how the team can put this service into action. Tasks fall into the following categories:

  • Communication and Stakeholder Engagement: We facilitate meetings and provide a forum for discussions and engagement; we also confirm that the company organization is properly documented, the right channels of authority are commonly understood and the stakeholders are all properly identified, including their areas of authority and their fair representation on the Governance Board. The Board is a team of clearly defined decision-makers, which includes the Faithful+Gould staff on site and only the truly instrumental representatives from the client.
  • Key Performance Indicator (KPI) Scorecards: We develop key performance indicators and seek to achieve a consensus around the ideals toward which the service provider should strive, which simplifies the prioritization of issues for resolution. Some examples of categories to focus on are operations, environmental health and safety, customer satisfaction, and costs; we collect and share this information and benchmark against those data points. Establishing these KPI scorecards also fosters a culture of improvement and the candid sharing of information.
  • Issue Resolution: For each strategic partnership or service provider, we field the issues that could be complicating progress, such as personnel issues, contract misalignment, scope creep and even conflicts between intercompany departments, and we help drive resolution. Based on this input, we fully define the chief concerns in order to build a business case / action plan. It is only with a completed business case / action plan that we can deliberate the proper corrective action with clarity. We assign tasks, set deadlines (phase-gates), and hold those responsible accountable for their timely completion before declaring an issue to be officially resolved.
  • Issue Escalation: Should efforts to resolve issues among the primary stakeholders prove unsuccessful, the proper channels of more senior authority are engaged by representatives of the Governance Board.
  • Compliance: We implement the mechanisms and handle the paperwork required by agency regulations, assessing whether projects and service provider scope align with the originally stated objectives and documenting lessons-learned for use on current and future contracts within the oversight of the Governance Board. We are the independent authority able to scrutinize and ascertain the satisfaction of all applicable contracts, policies, and procedures.

Less complex programs may not need the services of an independent governance team, but virtually any facilities and campus management, construction program, and projects can benefit from applying the governance mind-set. Project teams can take the responsibility for discrete governance tasks, checking in with each other during periodic meetings to gauge compliance with procedures and standards, confirm alignment of service providers’ performance with contract parameters, and measure progress toward project goals. The governance structure provides a neutral platform for continuous improvement, performance benchmarking, and contract compliance.

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