When I get the chance, which lately has not been very often, I make furniture. You know – dining tables, coffee tables, jewellery boxes, small cabinets and so on. I learned from someone who is really really good which means I may have avoided being really really bad.
My skill levels are pretty basic (avoid curves at all costs is my first principle) but it’s fun and I produce something solid and aesthetically pleasing that I can use and admire. So it’s very different from my work where all I produce is paper. But while the output is completely different the process has a lot of similarities.
When you make any furniture with wood, you start with rough sawn timber planks. The first thing you do with them is mill them – this means flattening and smoothing them and making sure they are square. Then you add more structure by cutting them to size. Then you assemble, glue up and, after months and months (OK, I’m slow) – Voila! You have a coffee table. It’s all about starting with something that lacks shape and adding more and more structure to turn it into something with much greater value than what you started with.
That’s how I sometimes feel about my work. It’s about adding structure to otherwise complex and unshaped situations – knowing where to draw lines, where to cut and where to join.
The most complex situations I find in the capital investment governance area are when there is an embedded governance framework that needs to be unravelled. Often, these situations are so complex that they don’t exist on paper – nobody is quite sure how to draw them. This is always a bad sign with governance. If you can’t draw what it looks like, it probably isn’t a runner – just like a piece of furniture really. The trick is to make sure that every decision making layer has clear accountability. If it’s not possible to state this in one or two sentences for each committee/committee chair, then there is likely to be a problem. I usually find that the best place to start in these situations is with the committee chaired by the SRO/Project Executive/Project Owner. That’s because we know exactly what the accountability of the SRO is – they are accountable for the success of the program and therefore they must own and approve the program business case. The accountabilities of other committees can then be referenced against this. Just like a joint in woodworking, the interfaces between the various committees/roles and their terms of reference and responsibilities need to be clean and well defined. It’s when there are overlaps that problems occur (the problem is seldom governance gaps by the way – over governance is invariably the issue). If you find you’re getting buried in committees, drop me a line. Believe me; your governance problem won’t be unique.
In the meantime, as I sit here pondering governance, my workshop is being renovated (a small problem with termites who were doing their own woodworking) and soon I’ll be up and running. Governance frameworks and coffee tables – what’s not to like?