In this series of blogs, Ruth Murray-Webster has reflected on her current work bringing about major change in an M&A context and mused about the parallels with all major project work – whether that be in public or private sector, in projects to build things, or projects to transform things.

In this final blog of the series of four, Ruth considers the vital role and persistent failures in governance from her experience.  

In a recent role I looked on powerless to see a programme director filibuster[1] his way through governance meetings (where the CEO, CFO, NEDs and external advisors were in attendance) – decks of 70 slides for a one hour meeting – just looking back at telling a complicated story to make the team look good and, in many cases, to disguise the underlying challenges with the work that the senior stakeholders were there to address.  And challenges – shot down as ‘trying to derail the team who are working hard’.  I know it’s not always that bad, and I remember better situations from past roles where input was useful and conversation was focused on decisions. What does it take to make governance really work?

I’m often reminded at how good some sectors are at stopping projects early that will not create the necessary value – think pharmaceutical development pipelines etc.  What those sectors get is that the role of governance is to use stage gates to make the right decision and that a PM whose project does not proceed past the stage gate isn’t a failure but has done the right thing for the investing organisation. Building cultures where than can happen is something close to my professional heart.

But before projects can be stopped or re-planned to make more sense, good data is needed to help decision-makers know the right course of action.  And to do this well means being able to monitor the right data.

So much of our monitoring (KPIs etc) is lagging – looking backwards at performance to date and projecting from that (often optimistically, assuming the challenges to date have been fixed).  I looked at a dashboard this morning that was telling a story that the programme was on track – all green – but assuming that the gaping hole in the sales pipeline would be filled!

What are the leading indicators that governance needs to pay attention to?  What sources of data (however ‘weak’ the signal) are important to predict emergent conditions in the market, or signs of unrest in the workforce?  How can governance be more forward-looking and predictive rather than a stage-managed look-back where the only interest is the type of biscuit on offer and ticking the box?

[1] Filibuster – an action such as prolonged speaking which obstructs progress in a legislative assembly in a way that does not technically contravene the required procedures.

Read Ruth’s first blog post in the Series

Read Ruth’s second blog post in the Series

Read Ruth’s third blog in the Series

Dr Ruth Murray-Webster is a Partner with Beyond the Deal (BTD), a specialist consultancy focused on ensuring that clients put good-quality thought into their M&A integration, or divestiture carve-out and separation plans. Ruth’s work, with her colleagues helps clients address all aspects of delivering the promised value from deal-related organisational change.  Prior to joining BTD Ruth was Director, Change Portfolio and Group Head of Risk at Associated British Ports and before then, Director of KPMG’s Risk in the Boardroom practice.  Ruth has a fascination with the people aspects of effective risk taking and has co-authored four books on the subject with David Hillson (A Short Guide to Risk Appetite, 2011; Managing Group Risk Attitude, 2008 and Understanding and Managing Risk Attitude, 2nd edition, 2007) and Penny Pullan (A Short Guide to Facilitating Risk Management, 2012) – all published by Gower.  She holds an executive doctorate from Cranfield School of Management where she researched project-based change from the perspective of the recipients of change and is a Teaching Fellow at Warwick Business School where she is module leader for the project management module on MBA and Masters in Business courses.

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