The 4 Key Roles of A Project Board

How project boards and steering groups support your project

Project Board meeting at table in conference room
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Does your project have a Project Board? You might also call it a Steering Group or Steering Committee. This article sets out the roles and responsibilities of this important governance function.

Let's start by saying that the Project Board is an important part of any project’s organizational structure. if you don't have one, you should talk to your manager about getting one set up.

The Project Board is chaired by the project sponsor and will typically include a number of other senior stakeholders as well as the project manager. There are normally three to five people on the Board. They are all key project stakeholders and people who have the ability to get things done for the project.

Bottom line: it's a group of people who meet to help oversee the project and keep it moving forward in the right direction.

Project Boards are set up at the beginning of the project lifecycle and operate throughout the project until it is closed. Let’s take a look at the 4 key roles of a Project Board.

The project board provides governance

First, the Project Board provides critical governance. They ensure that policies are adhered to at corporate level and portfolio or program level. They offer oversight into what the project team is carrying out. They, along with the project sponsor, are accountable for the successful delivery of the project and this governance role ensures that the project team is acting in ways that are ethical and within the boundaries of acceptable for the company.

They do this by questioning the project manager and providing help and support.

The project board provides direction

There are often decisions to be made on a project, and some of those will fall outside of the remit of the project manager. When the project manager is unable to make the decision, and it is something that should be discussed with more stakeholders than just the sponsor, it will go to the Project Board.

Their role is to keep the project on course by providing the appropriate direction for the team. They contribute to setting the vision at the start of the project and keep the project on track throughout.

The project board makes decisions

The Project Board is primarily a decision-making body. Their role is to make the decisions that keep the project moving forward by unblocking problems and helping the project manager see a clear route to successful completion.

The project manager will put recommendations to the Project Board. This could include recommendations to address:

  • Risks, such as mitigation plans to address potential challenges
  • Issues
  • Resourcing problems, like not having the right team members available
  • Schedule delays
  • Budget overruns.

The Project Board does not necessarily have to act on the project manager’s recommendation. As a group, they can come up with other suggestions for the way forward, and frequently they do. That’s often because they have a bigger picture, corporate view of the project’s environment than the project manager does, so they are able to see alternative routes and choose the best one at the time.

The Project Board Approves Spending

Finally, the Project Board approves the overall budget. Each purchase order or budget item is normally managed then by the project manager: you don’t need to go to your Project Board to get every invoice signed off for payment.

However, at the project level overall, the Project Board have a role to play in first approving how you are going to spend the money (your budget plans) and then in monitoring the ongoing spending to ensure the project is on track.

You’ll also need to draw on the Project Board when it looks like you need to spend contingency funds or management reserves. They can authorize overspends and help project teams access additional funds where this can be justified.

Overall, the Project Board provides an essential governance and steering function for the project team. Their direction and advice help the project manager guide the project in the right direction, and they are perfectly placed to step in and help if anything starts to go wrong.