A Project Board (or Governance Group) is:

 A body that provides sponsorship to a project, programme or portfolio. The board will represent financial, provider and user interests. Members of a governance board oversee deployment and make decisions through the chosen  life cycle.

– Association for Project Management

The Project Board should be a small group of suitably senior people who support the Project Sponsor in ensuring the Project and its outputs and outcomes are still the right thing for the organisation, and that it is delivered in a way that meets the needs of the organisation.

Typically, the Board meets monthly (or at least regularly) to make decisions about how to move the project forward.

Many organisations suffer from inefficient Project Boards which can spell disaster, because the Project Board can make or break the project:

  • If the members make incorrect decisions, it means the organisation might pursue projects that are not viable, or not right for the organisation
  • If the members cannot make timely decisions at all the project might stall

On the other hand, a well-informed Board, with the right authority, that makes timely decisions help the project forward and ensures it delivers value to the organisation.

Taking the time to design and develop an efficient Board is therefore linked to project success.

Project Board Overview:

The project board should  NOT: The project board should:
Be “a townhall meeting where anyone who is interested can join” Consist of  a small group of people who are actively involved in decision making for the project
Be a spectator event Be a collaborate, active decision making forum
Act as a briefing call Always be well prepared ahead of every meeting
Take over accountability from the Sponsor Be a support to the Sponsor, ensuring project decisions are made based on best information and knowledge

How is the Board formed?

The Board does not form organically or automatically. It has to be carefully designed by the Sponsor. Members of the Board have to be formally invited and the Sponsor should take care to brief each person, so they know what is expected of them.

It is a mistake to think that just because a person has gained a senior position within a company, they should be able to take on a Board position without any training. These people hold the key to project success so ensure they have the knowledge and skills to carry out their roles!

Who should be a member of the Project Board?

There is no “one size fits all” for a Board but generally you will want the following types of members:

Senior User: This should be one person that represents the people that will use, or that will be impacted by the project’s output. This one individual will have to have a good understanding of the people are representing, and be able to bring together several divergent opinions.

Senior Supplier: This is one person who represents the company, team or department that is supplying the resources. For example: your HR project involves an IT element for which you need resources from the IT department. The Head of IT is therefore on your Board as the Senior Supplier.

Finance representative: A person who has the delegates authority to approve project spend. They will need to be able to approve or reject spend, or changes to spend, at the Project Board meetings.

It can also be helpful to have Business Change Managers represented (although you might be able to do this through the Senior User). Their role is to ensure any decisions by the Board take into account the change required for BAU to adopt the project output. If you have many Business Change Managers, it is good practice to appoint one of them as Senior Business Change Manager to speak on behalf of the others.

It might also make sense to add relevant subject matter experts.

Why should the Board be small?

There are three quite simple reasons:

  1. When a large group of people share responsibility for something it is easy for individual members to “hide” behind the group and not take full personal accountability. That in turn means decisions can be made lightly or without due consideration. A smaller group where only one individual is responsible for a particular topic/ subject or represent a particular group or area of business enforces individual accountability.
  2. A large group of people is more difficult to coordinate and communicate with effectively than a small group. This can have the very practical implication that it might not be possible to find meeting times when all members are available.  If the board is not complete it could mean decisions cannot be made in a timely manner and the project could be stalled or threatened.
  3. When many individuals are involved in making a decision it can take a long time and sometimes it can be impossible. By having fewer, but well informed, individuals who have the authority to make decisions on behalf of others it increases the chances of prompt decisions.

How to keep it small?  This can be easier said than done, especially in situations where some stakeholders might see it as an afront if they are not given membership. The Sponsor will need to draw upon their people skills and political savviness when designing board, and they will need to be very strict when appointing members and only invite the people needed to make decisions.

Also, apply delegated responsibility where possible. For example: if you have three business change managers appoint one of them as “Senior Business Change Manager” to speak for all three at the Board.

How do I ensure the Board is an effective decision-making forum?

There are three keys to successful board engagement:

  1. The Sponsor must take care when designing the board and only appointing relevant persons.
  2. The Sponsor must ensure all board members understand their role and responsibility. The Sponsor may need to spell out that they are there to represent an area of the business and make decisions on behalf of them. This is not a briefing meeting.
  3. The Sponsor must treat the Board as a key stakeholder and do the required analysis and engagement planning to manage them in the right way.

This should involve identifying:

  • What information each board member needs ahead of each meeting
  • When they need to receive the information
  • How they need to receive it (relying on emails is tempting but the Sponsor must recognise that complex and/or controversial topics may require face to face meetings)

You may wonder:

Is this really necessary? In short… YES. If you want to ensure you have a well functioning Board then you have to ensure they are set up and engaged properly.

How is the Sponsor supposed to do all of that with loads of individuals on a board? Well… let me take you back to the point made above: The Board is supposed to be small. If the Board is too big for the Sponsor to engage with and prepare sufficiently it is a sign the Board is too big.

Hang on… the text above only mentions the Sponsor… doesn’t the Project Manager have a role in engaging the Board? The Sponsor is responsible for engaging the Board, they are likely to be peers and the Board is there to support the Sponsor. The Project Manager must support the Sponsor however, by doing things like reporting project progress regularly and honestly and ensuring the project is monitored closely so that potential variations are identified as early as possible.

What about the PMO?

The PMO is NOT part of the Board, but it is positioned very close to it. The PMO will have regular touchpoints with members of various boards to provide information, reporting, and support the resolution of escalated issues.

The PMO can also support the Project Manager in communicating appropriately, with insights and data that can help the Board make informed decisions. So, if in doubt as to the best way to get your message across, speak to the PMO who can definitely help you!

To learn more about the Sponsor’s role and responsibilities check out our APM accredited course: Sponsoring Successful Projects

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Monthly Newsletter

By: Karin Maule

Karin Maule
Categories: Project Management

Published: 6 February 2023

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