IT Governance: A Principled Foundation for Wise Governance

green tinted view of a boardroom table

If you have been following my blog series on IT governance so far I have been intentionally tearing apart the IT governance monster piece by piece. My first blog started by identifying what IT governance is, where it came from, and what it was supposed to be. My second post then established the scope and tone that IT governance models should have in order to be effective, coining the term “Wise Governance.”

Today we’ll dig into what the structure of a Wise IT Governance model looks like, and begin the process of fleshing out exactly what the first few pieces of that structure should be.  Before we begin, let’s quickly review what we’ve learned in the past few posts.

Wise Governance: A Super Quick Review

To be effective, any IT governance structure we come up with needs to meet the goals of IT governance:

  1. Assure that IT is being used to generate business value
  2. Oversee management’s performance
  3. Mitigate the risks associated with using IT

When you consider these goals, there are a few conclusions about how we should think about Wise IT Governance models:

  1. Tailor them for a specific organization.
  2. Tailor them to the specific program or initiative it is governing.
  3. Make explicit and concise in the purpose of the IT initiative they are governing, how value is measured, how management should behave, and how risks are mitigated.

Failure to adhere to this framework will otherwise result in the IT Governance model falling into the historical mistakes that currently plague IT departments and organizations. In other words, you’re not going to meet the goals that a successful governance framework can bring.

Laying the Framework

A natural framework starts to emerge when looking at the above goals and conclusions while considering the day-to-day work needed for any given IT initiative.  In fact, we already uncovered the first part of this framework in the last blog post, which is the purpose of the IT initiative we intend to govern–its Mission. There are three additional parts of a Wise IT Governance model that drive that mission and execute it.

The Wise IT Governance Framework

  1. Core Mission – What is the initiative and why are we doing it?
  2. Foundational Principles – The bedrock for the initiative, driving proper management behavior, and directing decision-making
  3. Organizational (or Functional) Governance – The initiative’s people, process, platform, and portfolio
  4. Technical Governance – The enablement of the technical realization of the initiative

These four parts of the framework ensure that you will build out an effective model regardless of the IT initiative you are governing. To build the foundation let’s take a deeper look at the first two parts of the framework.

A Very Good Place to Start

The Core Mission section of the framework ensures that there is consistency and alignment throughout your entire organization when it comes to answering the questions “What are we building and why?”  As with every part of the Wise IT Governance Framework it should be organization and initiative specific while being explicit, clear, and concise.

IT governance
Good governance, defined by your core mission, brings people together.

The low-code initiative Core Mission we used in the last blog post is a perfect example of this:

The Core Mission of our low-code initiative is to empower our entire organization, business and IT, to co-create and streamline the execution of innovative, high-quality solutions that measurably achieve business goals.

Let’s think through this Core Mission. It clearly explains what the purpose of the initiative is within the organization, “empower our entire organization, business and IT, to co-create and streamline […] execution…” In addition, the “why” of the initiative is also clearly explained by saying “streamline the execution of innovative, high-quality solutions that measurably achieve business goals.”  With this single statement, everyone throughout the organization can clearly understand the what and the why in a single sentence.  To be fair, making sure solutions “measurably achieve business goals” can seem vague, but it is in alignment with the purpose of a low-code initiative.  Other initiatives might have more specific “why” statements such as specific reductions in cost or clearly measurable alignment.  Regardless of the initiative, the point is that there are no wasted words, making sure the mission is as simple as possible. Core Missions that are longer than this quickly become unwieldy and lead to ambiguity within the organization, which is a dangerous place to be.  For a negative example, we could restate our low-code core mission like this:

The Core Mission of our new low-code initiative breaks down into two parts.  First, bringing to key business and IT stakeholders diverse tools and technologies in the new low-code paradigm.  Second, ensuring that these tools and technologies drive acceptable synergy that increases productivity, innovation, quality, timeliness, and acceptance of solutions measured to current internal standards as well as in alignment with industry best practices.

Statements like the above, filled with the occasional buzzword and unnecessary “business speak,” can detract the reader from the core mission. Be concise and clear.

Building the Foundation

Now that your Core Mission is in place, you can start to build the Foundational Principles of your initiative. These serve as the bedrock on which the rest of the Wise IT Governance model, and the initiative itself, rest.  As with the Core Mission, keep the Foundational Principles simple and directly aligned with the goals of IT governance overall.  Remember, the goals of IT Governance are to drive proper management behavior and to direct decision-making throughout the Wise IT Governance model, as well as the whole initiative being governed. To support this, any decision to be made or action to be taken in the initiative should first align with the Foundational Principles. If they don’t, disregard them.

IT governance
Solid foundational governance principles better support your business.

While the Foundational Principles should be tailored to a given organization and initiative, there isn’t any harm in reusing them where it makes sense, as many initiatives tend to share characteristics in a given organization. In fact, I’ll use as an example two Foundational Principles that should be in every initiative; empowerment and measurement.

Empowerment – As a Foundational Principle, Empowerment means that everyone in the initiative will have the tools and support needed for both success and self-determination, including, but not limited to, training, mentorship, needed software & hardware, clearly delegated authority, recognition, safety, and most importantly the authority to change this document via a simple process.

Measurement – As a Foundational Principle, Measurement means that since what is measured drives behavior, we will determine success and improvement by measuring the KPIs agreed upon by everyone in the initiative, and will reevaluate those KPIs regularly.

Once again these two examples show what good looks like when it comes to Foundational Principles. First, they directly drive management behavior/performance by demonstrating expectations for tools and support in the case of empowerment, and who has the authority to build KPIs for success & improvement. Secondly, they direct decision-making and acting on those decisions clearly by laying out what should be done and why. Ultimately this sets the tenor and tone of the whole initiative.

Some further examples of Foundational Principles might be innovation, quality, or standardization.  Remember, these principles set the direction of your initiative and make sure it keeps moving along the right path, whether that be towards quality and predictability, or dependable innovation. Just remember to tailor them for the given organization and initiative.  Also, concision is still important, so limit yourself to no more than four to eight Foundational Principles. Any more and it will lead to a lack of clarity when it comes to decision making, which again drives poor results.

Wrapping Up

Now that you’ve started applying the takeaways from the last two posts in this series, we have seen how a Wise IT Governance framework emerges. Digging into using that framework to build a Wise IT Governance model has shown us how to lay a solid foundation to build healthy and successful initiatives that adhere to the original goals of IT Governance.

Next time I will dig into the big Organizational/Functional Governance topic, explaining what it means and how to build it out. Since we believe in making rather than just talking, click the banner below to download a new guide on establishing a new governance framework.