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What is Agile Governance?

For an organization to embrace a truly agile way of working, Agile must become a part of the organizational culture and mindset. It should include the behaviour to learn from failure and to leverage those learnings to continuously improve. An agile mindset is a set of attitudes that support adaptive ways of working in response to environmental changes. These attitudes include respect, collaboration, pride in ownership, focus on delivering value, a willingness to improve and the ability to adapt to change (McIntosh, S, 2011).

Agile structure

When Agile is applied to portfolio, programme and project (P3) governance, it is not just about how a portfolio, programme and project boards direct and monitor the various initiatives using Agile product delivery frameworks. Rather, it is how the agile mindset, behaviours and values are applied to improve portfolio, programme and project board governance arrangements to remove organizational impediments and pave the way for project teams to do their best work and create exceptional customer value.

A crucial value of the Agile Manifesto is “individuals and interactions over processes and tools” meaning P3 governance board members should remove any bureaucratic processes that impede a project teams’ ability to deliver a Minimal Viable Product (MVP). This term is defined by Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, as the ‘version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort’. However, MVP should not be confused with the ongoing viability (costs), desirability (benefits) or achievability (risks) of the programme or project as a whole. Being agile operates within the programme or project environment, while doing Agile operates within the programme or project.

Where the agile mindset is of particular benefit to P3 governance is in the use of tolerances for escalation of project and programme risks, issues and baseline changes. This is where management by exception should be adopted and embraced by P3 boards, project managers and teams. Doing so will not only protect senior management time by avoiding the practice of regular meetings even when no decisions are required because no tolerances are at risk. It will also relieve project teams of the bureaucracy associated with unnecessary reporting.

Agile people

When using Agile, the project team must be empowered to make decisions to ensure their ownership of the delivery of the customer-driven product. That is, the project team must be able to manage its work processes and its work product. Self-organization and control can only occur when clear and realistic tolerances exist so the project team can manage within a data range rather than a specific point figure - for cost, time, quality (criteria), risk, scope and benefits.  In this way the Project Manager can focus on the day-to-day management of a project without constant need for Project Board ratification of their actions.

This is called Minimum Viable Bureaucracy (MVB) and refers to a way of having just enough process to make things work, but not so much that it imposes an unnecessary burden. It’s about finding the equilibrium between management control and autonomy – that is, the edge of bureaucracy. It’s about being pragmatic when applying P3 governance so that the fastest route that brings the most value to the customer can be defined. By focusing on the decisions that matter, organizations reduce their P3 governance bureaucracy.

Agile information

When monitoring and assessing performance using Agile, metrics are less about what a number “should be” (stick) and more about how that figure “could be better” (carrot). For example, when using an Agile product delivery framework the purpose of a burndown chart is to show the amount of work the project team has completed in a sprint (typically 1-4 week cycles), and the total work remaining. They are used to predict and improve the project team's likelihood of completing their work in the time available. This concept is similar to earned value management which is used to find variances in projects based on the comparison of worked performed and work planned using time and cost parameters. This forms the crux of what agility truly is about - the behaviours of inspection and adaption to continuously improve how both the Project Board and project deliver value to the customer.

Transparency in P3 governance, particularly when using Agile, means the full, impartial and timely release of information and the resultant decisions to stakeholders. Having a culture of transparency and trust ensures the board and the project team receives the right information at the right time. This generates positive goodwill towards the implementation and inspires the right actions. It’s important therefore to govern through transparency to engender trust and enhance cross-business cooperation across the organization.

Adopting Agile governance

Drawing from the above, true Agile governance begins with an agile mindset.  The key messages for Project Boards and Project Teams and Managers then become:

  • Reduce governance bureaucracy to the minimum viable level to support the production of the MVP
  • Empower and encourage Project Managers and Teams to fail fast and learn fast
  • Support openness and transparency, and
  • Authorise and support the Project Team’s ownership of the delivery of the product.

Many organizations are seeking to transform the way they work by encouraging their people to be comfortable with, and embrace, the need for change and better ways of working. This is critical if an organization is to respond in the most effective way to disruption, and create an environment and culture of agility that is responsive to all forms of change. If an organization is to be successful in this quest, the governance of change must itself be agile.



  1. Ries, E, 2011, The Lean Startup: How Constant Innovation Creates Radically Successful Businesses, Penguin Books Ltd, London.
  2. McIntosh, S, 2016, What Exactly is the Agile Mindset?, InfoQ, viewed, 26 April 2022,

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Milvio DiBartolomeo

About author

OGC Gateway Assurance Expert | Author | Agile, Project, Programme & Portfolio Management and Better Business Cases Specialist

Milvio DiBartolomeo has a proven track record in ICT project, programme and portfolio management in the Queensland public sector, Australia. He has worked on a number of transformational change initiatives across the programme and project lifecycle as a business and process analyst, software tester and project manager. He practices what he preaches having successfully implemented staged funding release by gated review technique to protect public sector investment and redesigned the project governance structure to minimise senior management time commitment for a Queensland Government department. He has extensive PMO experience as a Portfolio Manager, Capability Support Manager and now as a Workforce Delivery Manager. With a lifelong passion for learning his credentials include practitioner level knowledge in Better Business Cases, Managing Benefits, MoP, P3O, MSP, PRINCE2, PRINCE2 Agile, AgileSHIFT, ICAgile, ISTQB software testing and ITIL. He also released his first white paper called “Project Optimism Bias in Capital Investment Decision Making” through APMG-International.
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