By Lynda Bourne
Far too many sponsors, executives and project managers waste far too much time in ineffective steering committee meetings or project/program control board meetings (both referred to as PCB in this post).
The first key question for the organization’s governance team to consider is whether there is any need for a PCB. In most cases, provided the organization has well-trained and effective sponsors, there is no need for a PCB.
When deciding if the costs of a PCB are warranted, consider the following questions:
- Is the project/program large by the standards of the organization?
- Is the project/program more complicated or more complex (these concepts are different) than the normal projects undertaken by the organization?
- Are the risks associated with the project/program higher than normal?
If the answer to any two of the above questions is affirmative, a PCB is probably warranted. If only one answer is affirmative, it is probably sufficient to appoint an experienced and committed sponsor, but the risks, costs and stakeholder attitudes need to be considered.
If the project is business-as-usual, there should be no need for a PCB. The organization’s normal governance, surveillance, project management and stakeholder engagement processes should be sufficient. The most cost-effective PCBs are the ones you don’t have!
Making the PCB Efficient
If a PCB is needed, no meeting should take longer than 30 minutes. The costs of running a PCB are in the range of $2,000 to $5,000 per hour (sometimes more), and the organization needs to recoup value from each meeting.
This objective is achievable, but the PCB needs designing and managing so that it is cost- and process-efficient. The design and management functions are best assigned to either the portfolio management office or an executive level project management office (PMO).
The key elements in designing the PCB are:
- Every member of the PCB is appointed for a specific reason and the members know why they are appointed, what is expected of them and what to expect from the PCB processes.
- The relationship between the PCB and the change management processes is clearly defined.
- The relationship between the PCB and the key project stakeholders is understood. The primary function of the PCB is to champion the project and help maximize its value to the organization.
- PCB meetings only occur when decisions are required or a formal discussion is necessary; there are no time-wasting monthly meetings. Routine communication between the project manager, the sponsor and the PCB members is designed to deal with business-as-usual information flows and general oversight. There should be no surprises for anyone, ever!
- Communication with each PCB member is timely and effective. Each member receives clear, concise and informative briefing packs in a timely manner prior to the meeting.
- Questions or additional information requests are communicated to the project/program manager and the sponsor in adequate time to allow proper responses to be developed and circulated to all of the PCB prior to the meeting. (It’s not the job of a PCB to test the project manager with left field questions during the meeting.)
- Meetings finish on time and have minutes circulated promptly. All decisions are logged, referenced and promptly communicated to all affected parties. The key responsibility of the PCB is to make timely decisions on matters that affect the organization (not the day-to-day running of the project).
Developing PCBs that work efficiently does require the PMO responsible for the process to develop coaching and advocacy skills in addition to the PCB processes and procedures.
New PCB members will need coaching in their roles. Project managers will need supervising to ensure effective, timely and complete information is made available to the PCB, to ensure proper governance processes are followed, and to ensure there are no surprises in either direction by connecting the executive decision-makers on the PCB to the project/program delivery teams.
None of this is rocket science. But if implemented effectively, this advice will lead to projects and programs that keep progressing with open communication and efficient decision-making. This will make both the project sponsor and the project manager’s life easier and more productive, generating increased value for the organization.
How effective are your steering committees or project control boards?