Agility in Governance: What is agile governance? 

Co Authored by Tony Ponton and Phil Gadzinski

In our last post we spoke of the need for agile governance. In order to write further on the topic we felt it’s best to define, at a much deeper level, what agile governance is, so to that end this post will address that definition. 

Firstly, when we talk about agile governance, we are not talking only about project management offices and project management processes. Whilst they have a place in the governance system, they are only a small piece. Agile governance is about how you govern your entire system of work, at all levels, to enable your organisation, whether it be large or small. Governance is about providing assurance over whether our controls are working or not. In fact it’s about how we control our systems and why.

Successful agile governance requires building a culture of distributed governance and taking authority to the work (reference:Turn the Ship Around – David Marquet), whilst retaining control levers. It demands a sense of responsibility and ownership from all to allow for building greater levels of trust. We know that high performing teams have a greater sense of responsibility for what they see and do collectively and individually. 

To get to this culture of distributed governance, we  need to rethink the role leadership plays in governing the work and the system. Traditional hierarchical management, theory x (reference:Theory x and Theory y- Douglas McGregor)style leadership does not distribute authority – it retains it as a power base. Modern leadership principles are required.

As we move towards what we might deem to be more agile environments, interconnected networks of people and teams with the ability to respond to emerging change and need, we need to rethink governance. Who’s working on what, is it aligned strategically, is it the right work, and how do we know – which always were important questions – demand a different approach. Effective agile governance enables autonomy with directional alignment. So we need agile governance to allow agile teams to succeed. Hence that brings us back to our original quote: (we promise this will be the last time we mention it) 

“Agile Governance applies the values and principles of agile as first described in the Agile Manifesto to the whole of the organisation and how it establishes the mechanisms and constraints by which it can design, execute and control its strategies in an ongoing adaptive fashion.” 

Source: Gadzinski and Ponton 2020 

Now that we have defined governance as we see it, our ensuing posts will use this definition as the  basis to break down and discuss agile governance in depth .