Pay close attention to the behaviour of those who provide Assurance

What the Executive should really be looking out for.


Similar perhaps to a PMO, Assurance can often mean different things to many different people.

The role of Assurance has historically been grounded in a belief that a layer of oversight is required to safeguard delivery of a significant project or programme of work. Let’s start from a base that aligns to this intent.

More mature change organisations understand that Assurance should never reside in the same function as Audit. Why? Quite simply, it’s not credible that an Audit function marks its own homework. Ideally, on behalf of the Exec, or Programme Sponsor, Assurance should evaluate its findings and then call on Audit to independently attest to the status of the remediation work. Unfortunately, this rarely happens in practice.

In reality, organisations somewhat blindly allow Assurance to exist as part of the Programme Director, or Business Sponsors remit. As per the Audit example above, this bottom-up process is also not credible as it allows the Programme to mark its own homework.

Although there are shades of grey here, too often, businesses fail to recognise, that by its very design, Assurance should be independent of the Programme. This is where we advise the Exec to pay closer attention to what is going on.

" Another watch point for Execs, observe the behaviour of anyone who presents themselves as an Assurer. For many reasons, perhaps ego being one, those who offer opinion, especially those that deflect or simply raise red flags, are often those who are not measured, or objective enough to remedy the potential for un-desirable outcomes. In such scenarios, we counsel and encourage Execs to drive focus into understanding the "so whats". Warren Kwei, Senior Managing Partner, EA

We advise our clients, often a CEO, CFO or CPO, to pay very close attention to the prevalent behaviour of those that offer Assurance. If in the scenario above, it’s the Programme Director, or Business Sponsor offering opinion on their own initiative, watch carefully for the narrative presented, try to get a feel for the reasons behind their own findings or proposed solutions. Don’t just look the other way and allow what seems to be a compelling story to gain traction. Before you realise it, you’re hooked into a course change, a request for more time, more capex, or different people proposals. All of which add to an already disruptive situation.

Often, this is the moment the ‘blame game’ becomes more visible, e.g.: “its not us”, we’re the “recovery team” – also not credible, and Execs will recognise this if they’ve been paying close enough attention.

In terms of legacy, the stark reality is that Assurance should only need to be light touch, IF, an organisation takes steps to invest in its own ability to land complex, strategic projects. There are many facets to this challenge, including coaching Execs to better understand their role in the context of delivery.