In Step with Projects

In Pace with Progress

Establish Project Interface Governance Mechanism

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Author: Ding Ronggui     Translator: Yu Yanjuan (Spring)     Source: PMR
The concept "one country, two systems", proposed by Deng Xiaoping, is a national governance strategy full of wisdom. Reflecting the principle of unity of opposites, it not only takes into consideration systematic difference between Hong Kong, Macao and mainland China, but also defends one-China sovereignty. In projects, stakeholders may vary in management system, cultural traditions and religious beliefs, which will lead to diversity in system. The precondition for project success is to establish a project governance mechanism accepted and obeyed by all stakeholders. Whether it is Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge across different administrative governance regions, PPP projects across non-profit and profit organizations, product development projects across different disciplines and technical fields, or cross-cultural projects under “One Belt and One Road” initiative, we all face such a challenge. 

In project cooperation, we may merely need one hand of a certain person, but that hand belongs to the body of that person and can’t exist by itself. The organizations of stakeholders won’t appear or disappear with the launch or colsure of projects. It’s neither practical nor necessary to force stakeholders to abandon their original management systems completely. For example, it’s hard for two enterprises with belief in Islam and in Christianity respectively to give up their religious beliefs due to cooperation of a joint project; otherwise, they will lose sense of belongings after project closure. When a system has existed for a long time, it will turn into habits and cultures. It’s easy to say something like “Do in Rome as Rome does”, or “A gentleman gets along with others, but does not necessarily agree with them.” However, it’s hard in execution, as Lenin said, “The force of habit in millions and tens of millions is a most formidable force.” 

Whether it is "one country, two systems" or coordination between different systems of stakeholders, we should solve the problem of interface. The two stakeholders don’t have to be in agreement in other aspects but they need to have seamless transformation mechanism in cooperation interface. The key to put project governance into practice is to find the mechanism to solve interface conflicts. 

Traffic management at the intersection provides us with good inspiration. Overpasses, variable lanes, locks and red streetlights are four common ways of crossing roads. Overpasses are the way to gain smooth interface by lengthening driving distance; variable lanes is the means to break rules on short-term basis to shorten passing time; locks are the way to rely on external resources to fill the difference gap; traffic lights are the means to achieve reasonable passing by making a small concession in time. From the above traffic management, we can learn four typical ways to deal with project interface problem of different stakeholders: to increase technical interface and reduce management interface; to set up special system regions; to find a middle agent or person that can adapt to both systems; to increase the frequency and means of negotiation.

To ensure the effectiveness of interface transformation mechanism, we should adhere to the following principles: 1) to clarify the interface scope in space, time or obligation so that the rest parts of the system except the interface will not be affected; 2) to guarantee the transparency of operation ways and information delivery in order to reduce mutual doubt and facilitate beforehand preparation and adjustment; 3) to ensure short-term effect and reduce unexpected risks. The fundamental goal of these principles is to win the mutual trust of stakeholders. 

Stakeholder interface management involves changes in system, but people are generally unwilling to be changed. The reason why people are resistant to changes is that they feel unsafe by stepping out of the comfort zone. Only when they believe that changes are safe and profitable, will they be happy to make the change. Projects are collaborative platforms for stakeholders to realize their own needs. Only by effective interface governance can cooperation be carried out smoothly. 

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