7 September, 2023

Project Governance 101: A guide to the governance of projects

Projects need to run in a responsible way. And it is the job of Project Governance to ensure that they do.

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What is Project Governance?

PMI Definition of Governance

The Project Management Institute – in its 2016 Practice Guide, The Governance of Portfolios, Programs, and Projects – defines Project Governance as:

‘The framework, functions, and processes that guide project management activities in order to create a unique product, service, or result to meet organizational strategic and operational goals.’

APM Definition of Governance

Across the pond, in the UK, the Association for Project Management, in the 7th edition of the APM Body of Knowledge, defines governance as:

‘The framework of authority and accountability that defines and controls the outputs, outcome and benefits from projects, programmes and portfolios. The mechanism whereby the investing organisation exerts financial and technical control over the deployment of the work and the realisation of value.’

Our Definition of Governance

My own preferred definition is simple:

‘Project Governance is the practice of making sure that the project does the right things and that it does them in the right way.’

Why Does Project Governance Matter?

Good project governance matters because, in delivering a project, we are spending someone else’s money, subjecting them to a range of risks, and putting their reputation at hazard. Consequently, governance concerns itself with matters of:

  • Delivery performance
  • Product quality
  • Measurement of performance and quality
  • Probity, transparency, and record keeping
  • Due diligence in identifying, minimizing, and managing risk

Project Governance Responsibilities

To deliver this, project governance is made up of three essential responsibilities:

  1. Direction-setting
  2. Decision-making
  3. Oversight

Strategic Direction-setting

Establishing the project to produce the right strategic outcomes and deliver sufficient value to offset the costs and risks that it will incur


Delegating decision authority to the right levels and ensuring that decisions are made properly, by the right people


Evaluating project monitoring and reporting information and ensuring that the project is performing as it should

What are the Most Important Project Governance Processes and Roles?

Particularly of Project Definition, Business Case, Master Plan, selection in major procurements, and closure

The role of Project Sponsor or Project Director – day-to-day support, guidance, consultation, and decision-making

Project Governing Body/Governance Board Processes
Project Board and Steering Group Processes like evaluation, oversight, challenge, decision-making. The role of ‘critical friend’ is one I find particularly useful.

Terms of Reference
Establishing the roles you need and setting out the specific responsibilities (and limits) of each role.

Project Reporting
Gathering of data, analysis, and presentation in a form that serves the needs of oversight and decision-making.

Review Processes
Stage-Gate or Gateway Reviews ensure that a project cannot proceed until it has both:

  •  Completed the requirements of the stage it is in
  • Demonstrated the value and viability of continuing

Change Control
Ensuring that all requests for change are evaluated carefully – setting risk and cost against potential extra benefit.

Document Management
Ensuring that all project documents are controlled, stored securely, and accessible – although with proper data protection and confidentiality.

PMO oversight
Often PMOs have an oversight or data collation and analysis role that forms part of the project governance.

Project Audit and Assurance
Ultimately, how does the sponsoring organization get an objective view of project performance and probity? The answer is through project audit and assurance processes.

The Challenges in Implementing Good Project Governance

Finding the right governance process that will integrate the rigor we have come to expect from traditional predictive project management, with the agility we need from adaptive project management frameworks.

Performance Measurement

A common challenge is the creation of strong performance measurement systems and the gathering and analysis of effective monitoring data. This is one area where AI tools have the potential (if there is the commercial will) to really enhance project governance – and therefore project outcomes.

Roles and Responsibilities

Defining clear roles and responsibilities and ensuring executives set aside enough time to fulfill them. My experience is that many organizations experience a serious governance deficit.

Awareness and Training

Alongside this (and often the cause) is insufficient awareness of the value of project governance and a lack of training among senior executives (and project management) in the functions and skills of project governance.

Inconsistency and Silo Mentality

Big organizations and large programs often also suffer from the adverse impacts of a silo mentality and a consequent lack of integration across the organization. The first sign is often inconsistent approaches to and standards for the governance of different projects. But, this is just a symptom. What matters is a coherent, strategic approach to governance.


However, this is not to say that processes should be fixed. They shouldn’t. My last challenge is to create an agile approach to organization-wide project governance that allows for continuous learning and process improvement.

Carefully curated video recommendations for you:

What Kit does a Project Manager Need?

I asked Project Managers in a couple of forums what material things you need to have, to do your job as a Project Manager. They responded magnificently. I compiled their answers into a Kit list. I added my own. 

Check out the Kit a Project Manager needs

Note that the links are affiliated.

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Mike Clayton

About the Author...

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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