No one in IT wants to talk about Governance.  Why?  Because no one has a consistent clue what it is, and those folks that venture a guess usually come up with something frightening, overbearing, and/or expensive.

Good old FUD (“Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt”).  A great way to spoil your day.

Some words get overused.  SOA has been overused, although there is now a consensus on what it means, which means we can actually keep using it.  Other words, like alignment, and strategy, have so many different meanings that they can be twisted to mean “something good that I’m doing.” 

“Governance” went the other way.  It is a word that has become synonymous with “something bad that you shouldn’t do if you want to ship your code on time.”  Except in the SOA world, where it means something altogether different.

Governance is basically a system of processes and decision rights that reinforce the good behavior of the organization and help to maintain balance between the passionate creative brain-stormers and the careful, conservative, dependables.  It is a system that fosters creativity while restraining wild thrashing.  Governance keeps good things in the mix while preventing bad things from happening.

It is not software for monitoring uptime.  It is not a process of oversight and financial audits.  Most of all, it is not a system that squeezes every idea until any spark of creativity is winked out. 

Governance is a good thing.  Unfortunately, we need to come up with another word.  This word is no good anymore.

How about “Constrained Empowerment”?  🙂

By Nick Malik

Former CIO and present Strategic Architect, Nick Malik is a Seattle based business and technology advisor with over 30 years of professional experience in management, systems, and technology. He is the co-author of the influential paper "Perspectives on Enterprise Architecture" with Dr. Brian Cameron that effectively defined modern Enterprise Architecture practices, and he is frequent speaker at public gatherings on Enterprise Architecture and related topics. He coauthored a book on Visual Storytelling with Martin Sykes and Mark West titled "Stories That Move Mountains".

3 thoughts on “One more word for the heap: governance”
  1. Perhaps "Delegation" or "Delegated Responsibility" might be a better term. I remember reading in the Book of Exodus about the growth of the nation of Israel, which was "governed" by Moses, who didn’t really "govern," as we may think of it, but solved disputes (for the most part, although he originally "laid down the law" in the form of 10 Commandments), in much the way that a Judge solves them. At one point, the size of the nation grew to a point where Moses could not do the job alone. So, he appointed 70 "Elders" and delegated each of them to handle the "governance" of a division of the nation. When a problem was too difficult for any Elder to solve, it was kicked up to Moses.

    This of course, was the beginning of a hierarchical system, which could continue to expand downwards indefinitely. Good Governance generally follows such a model.

  2. Hello UC,

    I would agree that delegation, in a heirarchical sense, can form the basis of good governance, but not all good governance is heirarchical.  I’ve seen other models that work well too.  So while I’d say that ‘Delegation’ is one of a series of Governance patterns, that isn’t the word I would choose for replacing the word ‘Governance’ itself.

    — N

  3. You’re correct, of course, and as I mulled over my suggestion over the past 24 hours, the same thought occurred to me as well. However, I do agree that ‘Governance’ is probably the wrong term.

    Governance embodies analysis, planning, guidance, control, process oversight,and comprehensively, responsibility. This is achieved through the analysis of requirements, the development of policies, the oversight of the execution of those policies, and the enforcement of policies.

    Perhaps ‘Direction’ would be a better term?

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