Imagine you want to build a house.
You’ve identified exactly what the house should look like: how many rooms, the color of the paint, the layout and all the finishings. You worked with an architect to draft the plans. You hired a builder with a general contractor to break ground and build the structure. You identified an interior designer to put the finishing touches on the home. And finally, after several months and many dollars later, you move into your new home. It’s exactly what you wanted, and the new home meets your family’s needs.
A few years go by. The paint starts to peel. The HOA has sent new landscaping guidelines. Someone starts working from home and could use a dedicated office rather than a home gym. Instead of acting on these new developments, you just maintain the status quo. After all, this is your dream house, and it took a long time to get it to where you wanted it. And besides, you’re busy.
A few more years go by. Now the furnace isn’t working as it should. The HOA is starting to fine you for not following guidelines. The flooring is starting to wear down. The home gym you never use is still in place even though someone is using the dining room as their office. At some point, one of you declares this is the worst house and you really need a new one.
This all-too-familiar tale of home ownership is an accurate reflection of what happens when organizations don’t maintain their transformation efforts. Without proper upkeep and attention, the transformation that the team worked so hard to implement grows stale and ineffective. Business processes designed at the beginning no longer meet the needs of the business, but nothing is updated. System releases that could help the organization achieve ideal future state are neglected, so the business misses out on new functionality. And inevitably, the assumption is that the transformation didn’t work, the system is broken and it’s time to get new technology.
What is governance?
Often, when we talk to clients about the importance of governance, they aren’t sure what it means or believe it is all about systems governance, so it’s important to define the term. Governance, for the purposes of this conversation, refers to the business process and systems structure put in place to ensure ownership, good intake, proper assessments, prioritization/decision-making and implementation of requested or needed changes. It defines roles and responsibilities, establishes criteria used for prioritization and helps an organization put discipline and structure to continuous improvement efforts. Whenever a change is needed and requested—whether to a process, a technology or a policy—governance should help facilitate how the organization acts upon it.
Many organizations have some form of governance; however, it’s not widely used outside of software and systems development. The truth is that all departments benefit from adopting a standard governance model, and not just during transformations. Organizations need to be able to absorb, assess and act on required changes during business-as-usual activities, too. And as we know, business is typically anything BUT “as usual” these days.
What governance looks like
While each organization may choose to put its own spin on governance, there are some core elements that every governance model should include. What follows is an overview of each of these elements, along with some suggestions on how to make it successful.
Business strategy: No matter what type of change you’re undertaking, it’s vitally important to understand the organization’s business strategy AND how the change supports it utilizing a qualitative prioritization model with criteria, weightings and ratings.
Design principles: These set a clear direction for the requested change linked to delivering the strategy. Defining principles promote consistency of decision-making in the design process, helping to facilitate consensus and timely decision-making, as well as set the boundaries for when further justification and approval are needed.
Key roles and responsibilities: Governance means having accountability, so clearly defining roles and responsibilities within the governance framework is vital. Some of the more common roles include:
- Business process owners who are responsible for the overall solution design and own the end-to-end process
- HRIS who configures, assesses, demonstrates and makes recommendations on best practices for the design
- IT who stays involved with technical specifications and makes recommendations on data security, integrations and any downstream system impacts
- Change lead who captures and assesses the impact of the changes being made and supports with training and communication
- Voice of the customer to provide feedback of the changes and support continuous improvement
Intake process: Too often, requests come in from multiple channels, making it difficult to track and prioritize the changes needed. Establish a single intake channel and appoint the business process owners as the primary requestor.
Assessment: HRIS and business process owners need to meet and determine how much time, effort and cost the request might take to inform the prioritization process.
Prioritization: Governance requires a standard approach to prioritization and decision-making. This means creating prioritization criteria (cost, impact, etc.) that will allow a cross-functional team to rank the requests objectively. This means reviewing ALL requests and ranking them—not just the new ones. Governance is about continual review of priorities.
Change management: Too often, change is left to chance. Good governance ensures change is embedded throughout the framework—from impact assessment to deployment support.
Deployment/implementation process: Whether it’s a system change or business process change—or both—rollout is key to success. Building the requested change, testing it, approving it and communicating the change must be completed all the way to go-live and beyond.
Now that you understand the framework, it’s time to put it into work. Whether you use this specific model or modify it to fit your business, the first step is identifying your business process owners and assigning names to the different roles. Create your prioritization criteria, set up your intake process, establish your review cadence and educate your organization on the model and the role they play. You know the release schedule for your systems, so you can use that as a starting point, and then add in regular review meetings to manage requests as they come in.
Where we often see organizations struggle in implementing governance is at implementation and stabilization. Failing to communicate the purpose of the governance process can impact buy-in. Governance requires discipline and repetition—things that busy teams will often let go of when immediate needs from the business overwhelm them. Keeping the purpose front and center should help with implementation. Don’t give up! Push through the initial bumps in the road until you make the new practice a regular business process.
Once the governance process stabilizes, it’s easy to become complacent. Cross-functional reviews become perfunctory, and prioritization criteria grow stale. Apply good continuous improvement sensibilities to keep your governance process relevant and maintained.
Depending on the magnitude of a transformation, just getting it “done” feels like enough. We often say transformation is only the beginning. Without ongoing governance, that transformation you spent so much time and money on will become the rundown house you want to move away from. Don’t let it! With a little structure and commitment, your transformation will be ongoing, enabling your organization to innovate and thrive with every change that comes its way.