Enterprise Governance

Definition: Enterprise governance is the structure and relationships that control, direct, or regulate the performance of an enterprise [and its] projects, portfolios, infrastructure, and processes [1].

Keywords: COI, customer focus, governance, outcomes, policy, standards, strategy

MITRE SE Roles and Expectations: MITRE systems engineers (SEs) are expected to develop a broad understanding of the policy making, capability management, planning, and other business functions of their sponsor's enterprise that either influence or are influenced by systems engineering. They are expected to recommend and apply systems engineering approaches that support these business enterprise functions.


MITRE's systems engineering support exists in a complex political, organizational, and process-driven environment. This environment motivates many of our sponsors' actions and behaviors. Although MITRE's work focuses on technical aspects of the systems and enterprises, it is essential that our systems engineers be aware of, understand the effects of, and navigate effectively within the governance structure of how systems and enterprises are acquired and managed. Whereas the other topics in the SEG's Enterprise Engineering section focus on the more technical aspects of our systems engineering support in the project's enterprise, this enterprise governance topic addresses the business and policy environment of our projects.

We can view governance of programs, projects, and processes as operating at three different, interconnected levels of our sponsors' organization:

  1. Program level: In general terms, success at this level is defined by meeting the goal of delivering a system that meets specified, contracted-for performance, price, and schedule parameters. Program-level decisions, directions, and actions align with that view of success and influence the expectations of systems engineering provided at that level.
  2. Portfolio level: At this level, the focus shifts to making trades among a collection of programs to achieve capability-level outcomes. The tradeoffs balance various criteria, including the importance of capabilities to be delivered, the likelihood of program success, and the expected delivery schedule within constraints, like availability of funding and capability operational need dates. Portfolio-level decisions can result in programs being added and accelerated, cut back and slowed, deferred, or even canceled.
  3. Enterprise level: Interventions at this level shape and change the environment (or rules of the game) in which programs and portfolios play out their roles and responsibilities to achieve enterprise-wide outcomes, like joint interoperability or net-centricity. This is often achieved through department or agency-wide policies or regulations that rarely directly control, manage, or decide the fate of specific programs or portfolios. Instead, they indirectly influence programs and portfolios to stimulate variety and exploration of technologies, standards, and solutions, or they reward, incentivize, or demand uniformity to converge on common enterprise-wide approaches.

These levels of governance and their interactions are not unique to government departments and agencies. An example of a similar construct is the U.S. economy. Commercial companies produce consumer goods, like automobiles, to gain market share by offering products with competitive price-performance potential. Large commercial enterprises, for example, General Motors (GM), maintain portfolios of these products and expand or contract them based on market analyses and economic forecasts (e.g., GM's shutdown of Saturn and sale of Saab). Of course, GM's goals are quite different from a government organization managing a capability portfolio to support government operations, but the essential governance considerations, analyses, and decision making are remarkably similar.

Governance-Based Recommendations

Taken together, the different levels of sponsor governance define what the government is attempting to achieve, how they intend to go about it, and why they are attempting to do so. MITRE SEs are expected to understand the governance of the programs they support as well as the larger enterprise in which the programs are embedded. This understanding is important even if MITRE staff are not directly contributing to or influencing the day-to-day workings of that governance. When MITRE SEs understand how their program fits into its governance context, they can factor that knowledge into making technical recommendations. This directly affects MITRE's ability to provide systems engineering value and impact.

The expectations for MITRE SEs depend on the position and role in the sponsor's governance organization:

  • For MITRE staff executing tasks to support specific programs, our influence is usually focused on our customer's program outcomes. This requires an understanding of our immediate customer's objectives and desired outcomes so we can help the customer achieve them. In doing so, we should always provide independent, unbiased recommendations. In formulating recommendations, it is critically important that MITRE SEs take into account the other levels of the customer's governance organization, whether or not the immediate customer does so. On occasion, this may mean that we do not always agree with the immediate customer's direction. But it does require that we explain how consideration of the other levels of governance factored into our recommendations.
  • MITRE staff also play a role in helping the customer define or refine business processes, such as technical or systems engineering aspects of portfolio management. For mid- and senior-level MITRE staff, our role often involves recommending how to apply engineering analysis, advice, processes, and resources to achieve desired portfolio outcomes. Understanding the interconnections and dynamics across the different levels of the customer's governance structure is important to providing thoughtful, balanced recommendations.
  • For staff who participate in enterprise-level activities—such as representing their programs in communities of interest (COIs), participating on standards boards, or helping define policy at high levels within the government—the influence can be broad and far reaching. When in such a role, MITRE staff are expected to coordinate extensively across the corporation, other FFRDCs, academia, and industry to ensure that all affected programs and other stakeholders are aware of the activity and can provide input to shape products or decisions. MITRE contributions should consider all aspects of the problem, provide an enterprise perspective, be product- and vendor-neutral, and anticipate future missions and technologies.

Best Practices and Lessons Learned

View governance as scaffolding, not prison bars. Think of governance as a mechanism for navigating the solution space for the problems we are attempting to solve for our customers, rather than as a set of restrictive constraints that inhibit our freedom. Use the governance principles as a context for guiding your recommendations. Leverage and use the governance concepts to support your recommendations when they align (as they usually will).

Finding the right balance point. As you conduct your tasks, ask yourself whether the direction of your results (products, recommendations, etc.) is consistent with the enterprise's governance structure, including the customer's business processes, broader COI, and top-level policies and standards. If not, consider whether the results or the current position defined by the governance is more important to the program and enterprise you are supporting.

Be willing to challenge governance if you decide it is not valid or is detrimental to achieving desired results. Although high-level governance practices, such as policies or standards, are created with the intent of being applicable across the enterprise, generally those practices cannot account for every possible situation. Strike a balance between the governance practices that work for most parties and situations with those appropriate for your program and enterprise. Use your engineering judgment, combined with your broad understanding of the governance practices (and how they are applied and why they are beneficial), to determine that balance.

If governance practices need to be changed, consider how to augment, adjust, or refine existing guidance while satisfying local objectives, rather than recommending dramatic changes that may be almost impossible to achieve. When recommending changes, ensure that the intent of the governance concepts is honored and that the proposed revisions are applicable to and suitable for programs and enterprises beyond your local environment or situation. Enlist support from peers and management—first within MITRE, and then with the sponsor—to effect the changes desired. Develop a strategy early on about how to accomplish the governance changes, accounting for stakeholders, their motivations, and how to achieve win-win results.

Articles Under This Topic

  • The article Communities of Interest and/or Community of Practice provides advice on working in groups that collectively define items like interoperability concepts.
  • The article Standards Boards and Bodies provides best practices and lessons learned for MITRE staff participating on technical standards committees shaping technical compliance in programs and systems.
  • The article Policy Analysis discusses MITRE support to decision making in a multi-stakeholder, multi-objective environment.

References and Resources

Wilson, W. L., 2009, Conceptual Model for Enterprise Governance, Ground System Architectures Workshop.


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