Is it time for good enough governance?

Advances in Project Management


By Prof Darren Dalcher

Director, National Centre for Project Management
University of Hertfordshire

United Kingdom


Last month’s column featured strategic initiatives and their ability to connect strategy and execution. This month’s topic moves on to address the governance systems, structures and mechanisms required to implement projects and support organisational achievement.

The term governance has been in wide use since the 1980s. It is often invoked in discussions around epidemics, risks, hazards, climate change, coastal erosion, environmental challenges, communities, globalisation, and developing countries, but is neither clearly defined nor universally understood. The surge of interest in governance stems from the perceived limitations of traditional institutions and conventional structures, enabling a new social discourse focused around a fast changing world, where greater attention must be paid to people, practices, behaviours and activities.

Governance refers, therefore, to all processes of governing, whether undertaken by government, market or network, whether over a family, tribe, formal or informal organization, or territory, and whether through laws, norms, power or language’. (Bevir, 2012, p. 1)

The Oxford Dictionary defines governance as ‘the action or manner of governing a state, organization, etc.’. Accordingly, the verb to govern is defined as: to ‘conduct the policy, actions, and affairs of (a state, organization or people) with authority’. An additional explanation expands the focus, highlighting the need to ‘control, influence or regulate (a person, action or course of events).’ The term governance, which first appears in Middle English is said to derive from Old French governer, from Latin gubernare ‘to steer, rule’ and from Greek kubernan ‘to steer’. The Cambridge Dictionary offers a more contemporary definition of governance, as ‘the way that organizations or countries are managed at the highest level, and the systems for doing this’. The verb to govern is correspondingly explained as ‘to control and direct the public business of a country, city, group of people, etc.’. Finally, the US Merriam Webster Dictionary offers a more pragmatic definition of governance as ‘the way that a city, company, etc., is controlled by the people who run it.’ The underpinning verb to govern thus relies on the need ‘to officially control and lead: to make decisions: or guide the actions’.

Governance can thus be reframed as a way of steering, organising, amplifying and constraining both power and actions. In other words, it is the way that the rules, guidelines, norms, practices and actions that underpin an area, are developed, justified, sustained and regulated. Stoker further condenses governance to ‘creating the conditions for ordered rule and collective action’. (Stoker, 1998; p. 17)

Governance in projects and beyond

The sixth edition of the APM Body of Knowledge (APM, 2012) has been significantly re-organised around the concept of governance, which is the first key area introduced in the document. The discussion makes it clear that ‘the governance of portfolios, programmes and projects is a necessary part of organisational governance’ (p. 8), as it gives the organisation the required internal controls, whilst reassuring stakeholders that the money being spent is justified.


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Editor’s note: The PMWJ Advances in Project Management series includes articles by authors of program and project management books published by Gower and other publishers in the Routledge family. Each month an introduction to the current article is provided by series editor Prof Darren Dalcher, who is also the editor of the Gower/Routledge Advances in Project Management series of books on new and emerging concepts in PM. Prof Dalcher’s article is an introduction to the invited paper this month in the PMWJ.

About the Author

Darren Dalcher, PhD

Series Editor
Director, National Centre for Project Management
University of Hertfordshire, UK



Darren Dalcher, Ph.D. HonFAPM, FRSA, FBCS, CITP, FCMI, SMIEEE, SFHEA is Professor of Project Management at the University of Hertfordshire, and founder and Director of the National Centre for Project Management (NCPM) in the UK. He has been named by the Association for Project Management (APM) as one of the top 10 “movers and shapers” in project management in 2008 and was voted Project Magazine’s “Academic of the Year” for his contribution in “integrating and weaving academic work with practice”. In October 2011 he was awarded a prestigious lifetime Honorary Fellowship from the Association for Project Management for outstanding contribution to the discipline of project management. Following industrial and consultancy experience in managing IT projects, Professor Dalcher gained his PhD in Software Engineering from King’s College, University of London.

Professor Dalcher has delivered lectures and courses in many leading institutions worldwide, and has won multiple awards and prizes. He has written over 200 papers and book chapters on project management and software engineering and published over 30 books. He is Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Software: Evolution and Process published by John Wiley. He is the editor of the book series, Advances in Project Management, published by Routledge and of the companion series, Fundamentals of Project Management. Heavily involved in a variety of research projects and subjects, Professor Dalcher has built a reputation as leader and innovator in the areas of practice-based education and reflection in project management. He works with many major industrial and commercial organisations and government bodies in the UK and beyond.

Darren is an Honorary Fellow of the APM, a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, a Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society, a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute, and the Royal Society of Arts, a Senior Member of the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and a Member of the Project Management Institute (PMI), the Academy of Management, and the Association for Computing Machinery. He is a Chartered IT Practitioner. He sits on numerous senior research and professional boards, including the PMI Academic Member Advisory Group, the APM Research Advisory Group, the Chartered Management Institute Academic Council, the British Library’s Management Book of the Year Panel, and the APM Group’s Ethics and Standards Governance Board. Prof Dalcher is an academic advisor for the PM World Journal. He can be contacted at [email protected].

To see other works by Prof Darren Dalcher, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/darren-dalcher/.