Operations vs. Governance

At VSHN, we differentiate between Operations and Governance. This distinction, while a key concept in Sociocracy, isn’t exclusive to it. In any organization, team, or even for individuals, there’s a need to perform work (Operations) and to define the environment, our goals, rules, processes, etc. (Governance).


Planning and prioritizing your work, and doing the actual tasks you planned, is Operations. But determining how you plan your work, for example whether we do Scrum or plain Kanban, or setting customer communication guidelines that we want to stick to, that would be Governance.


Operations relate to doing the work and the organization of day-to-day activities within the constraints defined by governance. This is what most of us engage in on a daily basis - the actual work you do, such as programming, calls with customers, resolving incidents, doing backoffice admin work, you name it. It also includes organizing and planning your work.

Although "Operations" is a common term in tech teams referring to unplanned tasks like incident responses and customer requests, in this context, Operations includes both planned and unplanned day-to-day activities.


Coordinating and planning work is also within Operations and not Governance, as refining tasks and prioritizing them are one-time decisions.

Tracking Operations

In theory, you could keep all the work you have to do in your mind, remembering what to do and by when. In practice, this only scales to a certain point. Also, because you share the responsibility to get the necessary work done with your other team members, it’s important to write down, visualize, and track progress on work items. The most common way is through task lists, Jira issues, etc. Larger chunks of work are planned in Epics, Projects, etc. - Kanban is usually a great visualization to make work (Operations) visible.


Governance, on the other hand, involves the process of setting objectives and making and evolving decisions that guide how you do your work. This includes making and evolving policies and procedures about how we work together, distributing responsibilities and power, selecting people for roles and teams, accounting for dependencies between teams, distributing resources, developing strategy, setting priorities and objectives, and making all consequential decisions about products, services, tools, technology, security, and more.

Who does Governance?

Governance is not exclusive to a board or managers. It happens at all levels within the organization. Everyone who makes or contributes to governance decisions is a part of this process, often even unknowingly. We encourage everyone to participate in governance decisions, whether in dedicated governance meetings, on the fly during the working day, or in one-off meetings dealing with a specific topic. For transparency and future reference, we document our decisions.

Teams at VSHN are self-governing, meaning the whole team shares the responsibility to make and evolve agreements which govern how the people doing the work in their domain create value.

Defining the team’s domain - their purpose, responsibilities, products, etc. - is also part of Governance. This is done collaboratively by the Delegator and the Delegatees (the Team). This is also what ensures that the Delegator remains overall accountable for what is delegated to the Team - if they don’t deliver, they are stuck addressing issues or other issues, the Delegator needs to work this out together with the team, but doesn’t do it for them.

Tracking Governance

In theory, you could do this off the top of your head, understand the need to change a policy, propose something verbally, and ask people if they see any potential objections. If not, move forward and implement what you proposed. In practice, like with Operational work, this doesn’t scale, and it’s very difficult to reach a common understanding of what the problem might be and what your proposal implies.

  • For larger topics (drivers), we have an implementation in Jira - the VSHN Improvement Proposals. This is essentially a way to track the status of a governance item from understanding the problem, identifying who is responsible, finding a solution, making the decision, and reviewing the implementation and effectiveness of the decision.

  • It’s okay to make smaller decisions directly in meeting agendas, for example. Be aware, however, that we still document and proactively inform the people affected by the decision, and that we still need to follow up later to see if what we decided is effective.

VSHN Improvement Proposals, aka VIPs, are not Governance, they’re a way to track Governance. Governance needs to happen whether we use VIPs, something else, or nothing to track our Governance decisions. Compare tracking your normal work in Jira. Whether you use Jira or not, the work is still there, needs to be prioritized, worked on, and done.