The Lean Governance Mindset


The mindset required to govern IT in a lean or agile manner is very different than the traditional mindset. In this blog we review the key aspects of a lean governance mindset. These aspects are:

  1. Lead by example. People take their cues from their leadership teams. If your governance strategy is streamlined and light weight then whatever it governs will inevitably become streamlined and light weight. Conversely, an onerous and heavy governance strategy will lead to onerous and heavy strategies by those being governed.
  2. Be a servant leader. The primary function of governance people should be to prevent roadblocks, and if not to get rid of them as soon as they arise. You should strive to get teams the resources that they need and then get out of the way. Wait a minute, isn’t that the job of the Team Lead in Disciplined Agile (DA)? Yes, but who do you think that they work with to actually get that done?
  3. Motivation over management. IT professionals are intellectual workers, and intellectual workers generally don’t respond well to being told what to do. But they can be motivated, and once motivated will actively work on what they’ve been motivated to do. So motivate them to do the “right thing”. One way to do this is to communicate very clearly what your organization is trying to achieve. Another way to motivate people is to ask tough questions such as: What value is there in doing that? What can we do to increase value? How can we eliminate waste in what we’re doing? and What will we learn by doing that?
  4. Enablement over audit. Psychology shows that people, when given the choice, will usually take the easy path. This tells us that if we want people to do something, or to work in a given manner, then if we make it very easy to do so then they likely will. For example, if you want developers to follow common coding conventions then provide easy to understand and straightforward guidelines. Better yet, provide code analysis tools that they can include in the continuous integration (CI) tooling that provides feedback that they can act on. The traditional approach would be to rely on code inspections or code audits to ensure that conventions were being followed. This approach is not only onerous, and thus less likely to be followed, it has a long feedback cycle which means that any feedback resulting from the audit will be much more expensive to act on (on average) than the code analysis tool which has a very short feedback cycle. Yes, you may need to run the occasional audit, particularly when you’re working in a regulatory environment, but you should do so only as a last resort.
  5. Communicate clearly, honestly, and in a timely manner. Effective governors communicate what the priorities of your organization are and what is expected of people. It is crucial to set realistic expectations in an open, honest, consistent, and continuous manner.
  6. Streamline collaboration. Governors should help teams collaborate effectively with others. This not only helps them to achieve their goals but also supports enterprise awareness.
  7. Trust but verify. Agile is based on trust, but to ensure that the right thing is happening within your organization there needs to be verification of that. Governors can do this by monitoring teams via several strategies. These strategies include asking people what’s going on, automated metrics (via team dashboards), looking at information captured by information radiators, attending team demos, and as a last resort asking teams to produce status reports to address questions that can’t be answered via automated metrics.
  8. Focus on mitigating risk, not just reviewing documents. A primary goal of your governance strategy should be to mitigate risk. Sadly, many governance strategies have fallen into the bureaucratic trap of relying on documentation reviews to provide insight into what a team is doing. For example, your “architecture quality gate” might be based on the review and acceptance of an architecture model or document, the idea being that if some knowledgeable people assess the content of the document they will be able to determine whether the described architecture strategy will work. Unfortunately this isn’t the case. We’re sure you’ve seen several IT project teams who had a well-documented architecture, which was reviewed and signed off on, yet the technologies didn’t work well in practice, or perhaps they didn’t perform well, or perhaps they didn’t even integrate easily. The only thing that the review and acceptance of a document tells you is that a document was created, reviewed, and accepted.
  9. Learn continuously. Good governors learn as much as they can about what they’re governing so that they can make better decisions and can make effective suggestions to the people being governed.
  10. Consider both the long and short term. Governance must balance short-term needs with the long-term strategy of growing and enhancing your organization.
  11. Be a great host. People who have fun at work, who enjoy what they do, are much more productive than people who don’t. In this respect being an effective governor is like being a good host at a party – as host it’s your job to see that everyone has a good time and gets along well with each other, and to swiftly deal with any problems that arise.

Having a lean governance mindset, as described above, helps you to increase your effectiveness at governance. In the next blog we will describe what IT governance encompasses.

One thought on “The Lean Governance Mindset

  1. Dinesh Mohata

    Great Post !! I would add one fundamental tenet in communication which I feel is of paramount importance is “Talk through the problems” … Talking leads to resolving. It’s important to talk & ideate to govern it better rather communicate via mails, automated dashboards et al


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *