Who will be able to make the most important decisions? Who will give you the access to the resources that you need? Who will help you clear the blockages and get the extra money your project requires?
These are all functions of a Project Board or Steering Group.
A Project Board is a group of people with an interest in the project. It includes representatives from all key stakeholder groups. They meet regularly to give direction, authority to proceed, and to decide on the project’s strategy.
The Centre for Complexity and Change at The Open University discovered that while a third of project managers participate in the decision-making process, they are not the sole decision makers. Project Boards must be proactive in supporting project managers by making recommendations and taking decisions. The work could be halted while the project team waits for a clear direction.
The project sponsor chairs the Project Board. They meet once per month. However, the project manager should be able see any member of their Board between meetings if needed. But just because a project has a Project Board does not mean that the group will be valuable. Here are four reasons Project Boards don’t work.
1: No senior ownership
Symptoms include: The project manager brings suggestions to the table, but the Project Board fails make decisions; decisions take a while; decisions involve consulting others who are not present at steering group meetings.
Take action: Your Project Board lacks the right people. Your project board should have a clear path to decision making and be able to negotiate with other departments in the event of conflict. If there is no clear path for binding decisions, your project could stall at critical moments. This could lead to stakeholders disagreeing and refusing to follow each other’s decisions.
The Project Board could also be too large. It is difficult to reach a collective agreement with more people than five or six, so keep the group small. As project manager, it is important to consult other people before the meeting. Include their views in your recommendations to the Board.
2: There is no interest in the project
Symptoms include: Meetings are cancelled; the Project Manager is unable to make time for the Project Sponsor or Project Board members.
Take Action: Your Project Board is not comprised of the right people. Why is this? Or the project would never have begun without someone from the organization. The initiator might have left, and his or her successor could not support the project for any number reasons. If the company strategy has changed, then a lack of interest at the top in the project is a sign. This project may no longer be needed, but no one has yet been brave enough cancel it.
If the Project Board is not willing to give the necessary direction, you can suggest that the project be stopped. If there are people who believe the project should be continued, they will stand up and come out of hiding to support it.
If you don’t get a challenge on your recommendation, then no one cares enough to allow the work to go ahead. It is not worth working on a project that doesn’t serve its purpose. So, let’s just say goodbye and support the team as they transition to more relevant projects.
3: They are willing but not useful
Symptoms include: meetings not being structured; Project Board members are enthusiastic, but don’t follow through on delegated actions; unclear roles and responsibilities.
Take Action: Although it seems like everyone is convinced that this project is a good idea and a good idea overall, no one really knows what or why they are doing it. The ‘Why’ is the most important part of the project board. It should be able to explain the benefits to each member.
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