5 Ways To Do Project Governance Right

Every single day, governance issues come up in our clients’ change projects. Why? Because governance is hard. It takes practice.

No one is born instinctively knowing how to effectively guide a team through a multi-year project. No matter how well you prepare—even if you’ve been doing it for years—governance is a learning process.

Plus, it’s a high-pressure learning process because in order to be successful, you have to bring together a cross section of leaders, supporters, and even rivals to make the project work. And you have to govern in public.

How to tackle it? Here are 5 ways to do project governance right:

Create an agenda for every meeting

Is the meeting agenda going out of style? Because sometimes, it seems to only live in the mind of the person who called the meeting. 

This is a recipe for chaos and resistance. When meeting participants know the plan ahead of time and can follow along during the meeting, they’re more likely to participate. With an agenda, each member has a sense of agency.

Move ahead, even when things change

Often, meetings get cancelled at the last minute because an agenda item, or the leader,  is “not ready.” This creates disruption (and perhaps even a bit of mistrust). Team members, uncertain about the reliability of the meeting schedule, may start tentatively scheduling other things to ensure they can stay productive in case the next meeting doesn’t go ahead as planned. Long term, this will keep the team from engaging with one another and will put the project mentally on hold. 

Instead, normalize change. If something has shifted and you’re unable to stick to the original agenda, create a revised agenda. This is the time to think on your feet. Find a productive discussion topic. Come up with a way to establish collegiality within the group. Challenge yourself to look forward.

You’ll need this group to engage with one another for a long period of time. Establish norms (such as meeting regularly) from the beginning to help the project team bond and get in the habit of thinking about the project and its success from the very beginning. 

Use your steering committee

Don’t forget that project governance is never done in isolation. Your steering committee is there as a resource. They’ve agreed to be involved because they’re committed to helping your team through the process. 

Use them. Get their input. Ask them to help you figure out next steps. Tap into their knowledge to establish group norms, problem-solve, figuring out how to help the group work together, and simply to help you think through issues as they emerge.

Get comfortable with vulnerability

Allowing yourself to practice governing in public feels risky. But being open and vulnerable makes your leadership stronger and more authentic. 

Do your best to prepare. When things don’t go as planned (they rarely will), acknowledge it, ask for feedback, listen, learn, and change.

Celebrate failure

Did a team member take a risk? Celebrate. Celebrate with the entire team. Even if—especially if—that risk didn’t pay off.

It’s important to recognize guts and engagement. And a time for recognition is a time to acknowledge that though an action may not have paid off this time, strong commitment is exactly what the team needs to see the project through. Then you can ask: What’s our next daring goal? 

When policies get in the way

Banish red tape to get your projects done.

As project management consultants, we have a bone to pick about bureaucracy and inefficiency when it comes to moving a project forward. Here’s an example:

Your organization has a crack team assembled to implement a state-wide rollout of critical new software. You did your planning, included all stakeholders, and hired an outside project management consultant to lead the process. 

The team got right to it. After four months, they had completed all tasks on schedule and felt energized by the work they were doing.

Now, phase one is complete. According to organizational policy, the team now needs a green light from an oversight committee to move forward. The project manager submits the necessary paperwork, a form that she submits by email. And then she waits. 

The project work stops. Everyone waits. The project manager sends a follow-up email to confirm that the proper documentation has been received. A few days later, she sends another. 

A week after they filed the form, the oversight committee finally informs the manager and team leader that the committee received the correct form, but that they also require another form that should have been filed simultaneously. Frustrated, the project manager finds and fills out the second form – much of it asking for duplicate information – and submits it.

Project work is still stopped. Everyone is still waiting. The committee sends another email two days later and another the following Monday requesting more details. The project manager continues to send polite follow-up emails that barely shield her deepening sense of urgency. She can feel the momentum draining from the team as they wait and wait.

Finally, three and a half weeks later, the team is cleared to begin phase two. 

Stasis has consequences.

How do you think the second phase of this project will go? We’ve been in this position many times and we can tell you: it’s not going to be pretty. 

By now, our hypothetical team’s attention has been diverted back to everyday work tasks or work for other projects. They’ll get back to this project, now that it’s been approved, but it’s likely that they’ll never fully recover from the loss of momentum. And there will be more red tape in the future.

So common. So disruptive. So unnecessary. 

A better governance model.

All of this can be avoided through the establishment of simpler, more thoughtful policies. Of course, there’s no way to function as an organization if you don’t have policies to guide operations. But when a process for governance slows the project, it’s wrong. Ill-conceived regulations interfere with progress and undermine your most important asset: your employees.

The answer? A leaner governance structure that aims to help rather than hinder the project. Here are some guidelines for creating a helpful structure:

Standard deliverables.  

As an organization, identify standard project requirements that are important to your business and culture. A mature project management office will build out a list of requirements for each project, broken down by phase. For example, at the end of the planning phase, you should have a solid project management plan, a schedule, a resource plan, a project charter, and maybe the formation of the project team. In time, every project manager will know they need to deliver a full package of requirements before they request project continuation. 

Cultivate nimble governance. 

People overseeing projects are responsible for the big picture. They should gather data about the project, weigh it against the entire organizational portfolio, and decide if it’s still important to the organization. Give them methods of evaluation that keep them focused on the values and goals of the company, not minute project details. Ban all busywork. 

Healthy prioritization.

Project oversight should be governed by simple systems and nimble methods of evaluation that allow overseers to determine quickly whether or not a project should continue to its next phase. Set up flexible gateway points so projects can move forward with efficiency. Make approvals an ongoing process, not something reviewed at an arbitrary or rigid time each month. Once a project has exceeded a threshold, review progress right away. 

A sense of urgency.

Timing is everything when a team is in the middle of a project. That means someone may need to interrupt their day to help get a project back on track or to move some paperwork ahead. (In fact, this should be the norm; all executives get a merit badge for removing a roadblock from a strategic project!) Feeling a sense of urgency and a responsibility toward the team is a non-negotiable. Create systems that encourage employees outside the team to be responsive, supportive, and flexible so project teams can get the job done.

Where Does This Project Fit In?

Balancing your organization’s project portfolio.

Your organization may have 20, 50, or 150 projects going at any one time. Still, you may need to add more.

So. How do you slot a new project into your portfolio? How do you determine whether it’s more important than other projects that are already underway? What resources does your organization need to keep everything humming and to prioritize the work effectively?

By developing an intentional and thoughtful project portfolio

As leaders in project management, here’s how we help organizations do that.

Determine your portfolio’s guiding principles.

We help project managers and leaders determine which projects make the most sense for their organization.

One tool we use is a matrix that shows effort and payoff side by side. This visual tool can help an organization’s leaders define their own guiding principles and measure each project against them.

Once it’s in place and the criteria is well understood, the matrix is a simple way for organizations to measure the importance of each project and determine how it is positioned against the other organizational priorities. The ability to effectively manage a project portfolio is an important marker of organizational and cultural maturity. (Some organizations have added in a third dimension: estimating a project’s benefit to the world. It’s a thought-provoking concept!)

Identify high-priority projects.

The goal is to highlight high-value/low effort or complexity projects so leaders know which ones to focus on. Using a matrix and other tools, we help organizations prioritize projects based on their apparent relevance. Do projects align with the current organizational strategy? Have legislative changes created urgency in new areas or made it necessary to shift focus?

By asking questions like these and plotting each project against the guiding principles, an organization can make data-driven decisions – based on risks, costs, and value – rather than emotional ones.

Look at the big picture.

Once projects are prioritized, we help organizations understand how their projects are linked and how to proceed.

By developing a governance structure and strategic approach to a project portfolio, organizations can focus on the most important, relevant projects first and create a timeline for initiating and finishing them effectively.

By using a tested, strategic approach, we help ensure that everyone is on the same page and that every project is relevant to an organization’s current situation.

Hope Youngs

Client executive and chief needle threader

Education and Certifications
Master’s in Business Administration; Business Architect certification; ScrumMaster certification.


Function and Specialization
​Hope is the Client Executive at FirstRule Group. She specializes in helping companies execute on strategic objectives and loves getting things done with a rousing “heck yes!”


About Hope

​When not working, you can find Hope sharing family time with her daughters, hiking in the mountains, or feeling the wind on her face sailing.

Jarius Rice

Jairus Rice

Consultant and Partnership Builder

Education and Certifications
Master’s in Public Administration; Bachelor’s in Political Science; Prosci Change Management Professional; LEAN Six Sigma Green Belt


Function and Specialization
Jairus is an executive leader specializing in designing and shepherding organizational change and process improvement strategies. He helps clients develop strong partnerships to achieve strategic goals, maximize performance, and increase value to their customers.


About Jairus
Jairus is a combat veteran who served five years in the United States Marine Corps. When he and his wife Jessica aren’t coaching their three kids’ sports teams, they enjoy hunting, fishing, hiking, and camping. 

Shelley McDermott

Partner and Diplomatic Hostess

Education and Certifications
Project Management Professional certification


Function and Specialization
Shelley has more than 25 years of senior program leadership experience. She specializes in leading teams and optimizing high-risk, high-visibility projects.

About Shelley
Shelley enjoys cooking, remodeling projects, and spending time with family and friends. 

Stacy Steck

Stacy Steck

Partner and Illuminator

Education and Certifications
Master’s in Business Administration; Project Management Professional certification


Function and Specialization
Stacy is an expert in planning and executing transformational technology projects. She specializes in communication, facilitation, and getting things done. 


About Stacy
Stacy is passionate about fundraising and loves serving her community. She also enjoys traveling and writing.

Joanna Briese

Joanna Briese

Consultant and Project Manager

Education and Certifications
Master’s in Secondary Teaching; Applied Project Management Professional certification


Function and Specialization
Joanna is a skilled project manager and curriculum developer. She specializes in e-learning and training and has even been a trainer in the specialty coffee industry!


About Joanna
Joanna loves the outdoors, cooking, family, travel, coffee, and curling up with her cats and a book.

Nissa Burger

Nissa Burger

Consultant and Project Manager

Education and Certifications
20 years in elections managing statewide software implementations


Function and Specialization
Nissa is a seasoned project manager who specializes in all facets of software development.


About Nissa
Nissa loves summertime, cheering on her kids in their sports, and spending time with family.

Trish Coloma

Trish Coloma

Consultant and Transformation Specialist

Education and Certifications
Bachelor’s in Sociology; Project Management Professional certification


Function and Specialization
Trish is an adept project manager focused on designing and implementing governance and helping organizations manage change and improve processes. She specializes in turning vision into action.


About Trish
Trish is an avid hiker and backpacker. She’s found that just like project management, a great hike is all about the journey and good planning!

Heather Coughlin-Washburn

Consultant and Negotiator

Education and Certifications
Studied journalism and psychology; sixteen years in the IT field; Independent Validation and Verification (IV&V) certification


Function and Specialization
Heather is a senior consultant who specializes in managing complex IT projects and quality assurance. She is passionate about building successful teams and achieving positive outcomes for clients.


About Heather
Heather has a background as a professional journalist specializing in government, politics, and law enforcement. In her spare time, she enjoys writing, photography, and camping.

Lindsay Flye

People Operations Manager & Bringer of Energy

Education and Certifications
Masters of Science in Industrial/Organizational Psychology 


Function and Specialization
Lindsay is the People Operations Manager for FirstRule Group. She focuses on recruitment, onboarding and offboarding, candidate experience, and human resources policies and processes.


About Lindsay
Lindsay loves to read, cook, quilt, and be outside with her pup. She also enjoys traveling, time with friends and family, and game nights.

Larry Holden

Larry Holden

Consultant and Creator of Big Hairy Spreadsheets

Education and Certifications
Bachelor’s in Chemistry


Function and Specialization
Larry is an experienced project manager and analyst with a focus on finance and IT projects. He specializes in process improvement. 


About Larry
Larry loves cooking, skiing, Christmas movies, and hanging out with his kids. He is also actively involved in his community Little League.

Pamela Johnston

Consultant and Puzzle Solver

Education and Certifications
Master’s of Education in Counseling Psychology; Bachelor’s in Management Science


Function and Specialization
Pamela is a senior business analyst with extensive technical IT experience. She specializes in system integration and implementation, data analysis, and reporting.  


About Pamela
Pamela is a proud Duke Blue Devil2 who loves ballet, orchids, bowling, and line dancing. She is the mother to fur babies Dash and Valentino. 

Jessica Larson

Consultant and Project Manager

Education and Certifications
Master’s of Public Health; Master’s of Health Administration


Function and Specialization

Jessica Larson is a seasoned project manager with demonstrated skill in all facets of project management. She specializes in helping teams identify and understand problems and develop impactful solutions.


About Jessica
Jessica has visited 7 countries and 39 U.S. states and is always planning her next trip. In between travels Jessica enjoys gardening, hiking, cooking and baking, rooting for Seattle sports teams, and spending as much time outdoors with family as possible.

Lori Luppino

Lori Luppino

Consultant and Intuitive Collaborator

Education and Certifications
Twenty years of experience in IT finance


Function and Specialization
Lori is a business analyst with an affinity for change management. She specializes in IT finance, budgeting, and business operations.


About Lori
Lori enjoys live music, the outdoors, traveling, painting, and her family.

Duncan McDermott

Finance Manager

Education and Certifications
Master’s in Business Administration; Bachelor’s in Business Administration with a concentration in finance


Function and Specialization
Duncan is the Finance Manager for FirstRule Group and oversees billing and contracts and supports other operational functions of the firm. He specializes in tall orders and a sunny delivery.


About Duncan
Duncan played basketball for Pacific University and enjoys boating, summer activities, and billiards.

Daisye Ore

Daisye Orr

Consultant and Creative Strategist

Education and Certifications
Master’s in Public Health with an emphasis in health communication


Function and Specialization
Daisye is an experienced program leader and systems thinker. She specializes in policy development, program planning, communication, partner engagement, and working from a place of equity and inclusion.


About Daisye
Daisye loves creating art, being in nature, searching for vintage treasures, reading, and spending time with her loved ones.

Ben Robinson

Ben Robinson

Consultant and Data Storyteller

Education and Certifications
Master’s in Business Administration with an emphasis in Finance


Function and Specialization
Ben is a management consultant specializing in business operations, financial forecasting, and data analysis and reporting.


About Ben
Ben is a lifelong learner. He enjoys backpacking, cycling, and adventuring with his family.

Eric Stout

Consultant and Technical Make-It-happener

Education and Certifications
Associate’s degree in Computer Science; Black Belt Candidate; Microsoft Product Specialist 


Function and Specialization
Eric is an accomplished consultant with deep technical knowledge. He specializes in cross-business partnerships, IT transformations, and program management.


About Eric

Eric is a father, musician, snow boarder, and boat captain.

Laura Scott

Consultant and Team Developer

Education and Certifications
Bachelor’s in Business Administration with a major in Information Systems; Project Management Professional certification


Function and Specialization
Laura is a project manager specializing in technology projects. She is also known for creating inclusive, empowered, and high-performing teams.


About Laura
Laura is from Seattle and enjoys all things outdoors, such as hiking, snowshoeing, sailing, and gardening.

Insert Name

Consultant and Tenacious Observer

Education and Certifications
additional text about education 

Function and Specialization
additional text about specialization


additional text about the person

Stephanie Telander

Stephanie Telander

Consultant and Insightful Connector

Education and Certifications
Project Management Professional certification; Prosci Change Management Professional certification; IT Service Management (ITIL) and International Standards Organization (ISO/20000) certifications

Function and Specialization
Stephanie is an experienced project manager and business analyst. She specializes in taking complex things and making them easier to consume through diagrams, flow charts, and plain speak documentation. 

About Stephanie
Stephanie loves gardening, travel, cooking, crafts, family, and a good mystery.  

Chi Underwood

Chi Underwood

Consultant and Strategic Improvement Specialist

Education and Certifications
Master’s in Business Administration; Bachelor’s in Business Administration and Finance; LEAN Six Sigma Black Belt 


Function and Specialization
Chi is an experienced consultant focused on process improvement using Six Sigma methodologies and data analytics. He specializes in business analysis, team development, budgeting and the organizational design of new processes.  


About Chi
Chi is an avid fisherman chasing salmon in the Pacific Northwest. He is also a judge for the First Robotics competition. 

Sheri Anderson

Consultant and Chaos Controller

Education and Certifications
Project Management Professional Certification

Function and Specialization
Sheri is an experienced consultant and an effective liaison between business and technical teams. She specializes in process improvement, business analysis, team leadership, implementations, data warehousing, user training, and testing.

About Sheri

Sheri splits her time between Utah and Arizona and prefers to relax around water and in the mountains.  She enjoys traveling with her husband and spending time with her two adult boys and grandson.

Christy Anna Gerber

Consultant and change advisor

Education and Certifications
Master’s in Business Administration


Function and Specialization
Christy Anna is consultant with a unique ability to see beyond challenges. She specializes in  creating pathways for opportunities, learnings, and desired outcomes.


About Christy Anna

Christy Anna loves spending time with family and friends especially if that time is spent outdoors. She loves skiing, mountain biking, and fly-fishing across the West. She’s also a fan of a great book and enjoys live music.

Malcolm Hooper

Consultant and Trusted advisor

Education and Certifications
Master’s in Education; Bachelor’s in Economics


Function and Specialization
Malcolm is an accomplished consultant with many years of experience managing operations, IT, and cybersecurity. He specializes in partnering with senior leadership to advise, develop, and implement strategic and effective IT initiatives.   


About Malcolm

Malcolm loves baking sourdough bread, perfecting recipes, traveling with his family, and training for his next ultimate tournament in his free time.  

Karen Langehough

Consultant and force multiplier

Education and Certifications
Bachelor’s in Business Administration with an emphasis in psychology; Certified Master Project Manager; Certified Senior Professional in Human Resources  


Function and Specialization
Karen is an accomplished senior leader and business-focused practitioner. She specializes in human resources consulting, change management, coaching, and development.


About Karen

Karen enjoys cooking, gardening, coffee, watching Seattle Mariners and Seahawks games, volunteering through her church, and spending time with friends and family.

Susan Meenk

Consultant and Mind Reader

Education and Certifications
Master’s in Business Administration with an emphasis in organizational development; Bachelor’s in psychology


Function and Specialization
Susan is an executive leader with expertise in Human Resources. She specializes in strategic planning, leadership development, succession planning, conflict resolution, and team building. 


About Susan

When Susan is not spending time with her family, she can be found outside working in the garden, running, or paddle boarding. She is also an active community volunteer. 

Shawn Milligan

Consultant and Project Manager

Education and Certifications
Doctorate in Business Administration; Project Management Professional certification; ScrumMaster certification


Function and Specialization
Shawn is an accomplished project manager with extensive business experience. She specializes in bringing people together to make things better. 


About Shawn

Shawn is an avid international traveler and has visited all seven continents. She is also a nature and travel photographer.

Lindsey Phillips

Consultant and Intuituve Facilitator

Education and Certifications
Associates of Art’s in Liberal Arts & Sciences 


Function and Specialization
Lindsey is an experienced and versatile project coordinator known for her adept management and relationship-building skills. She specializes in spearheading projects, optimizing operational productivity, and providing excellent client service. 


About Lindsey

​Lindsey enjoys spending time with her wonderful family and two dogs, as well as expanding her skills through gardening, pottery classes, and other creative pursuits.​ 

Anne Shields

Consultant and Business Strategist

Education and Certifications
Project Management Professional certification; PMI Agile Certified Practitioner 


Function and Specialization
Anne is project manager who creates simple solutions while providing transparency into complex environments. She specializes in cross functional team coordination with multiple disciplinary dependencies.


About Anne

Anne enjoys traveling, yoga, gardening, cooking, and entertaining. She shares her Lake Tapps home with an 80-pound German shepherd-husky mix with adorably crooked ears.

Steve Smith

Consultant and Alchemist-in-residence

Education and Certifications
​Masters in Business Administration 


Function and Specialization
Steve is a distinguished consultant with experience in human services delivery, financing, policy development, and executive leadership in the government and non-profit sectors. He specializes in “How did he do that?” problem solving outcomes. 



In addition to his standing as a top-ranked volleyball dad, Steve is known for his commitment to his fellow veterans, especially as an advocate for expanded veteran housing options. He is a member of the Orlando Housing Authority board of commissioners and the managing board of the Homeless Services Network of Central Florida.

Wendy Ld Helling

Wendy LD Helling

Partner and Thought Leader

Education and Certifications
Master’s in Business Administration


Function and Specialization
Wendy has deep experience in bringing complex, multi-year projects to life. She specializes in IT project management, data management, and strategic planning.   


About Wendy
Wendy loves traveling and hanging out in warm climates.