How to enjoy your project board

Project manager stands in front of flip chart and presents to project board sat around table in board meeting room

Come again? How to enjoy your project board? What do you mean enjoy?

It’s not uncommon for project managers to have a degree of trepidation about project boards. The board, after all, is a holding-to-account session, where the project manager presents progress – or, sometimes has to justify the lack of it.

Boards can be confrontational, they always require a lot of work generating the reports, however, they can be enjoyable. And I do mean that.

I went directly from my worst project ever to my best project ever, and I have no doubt that my best project was my best project in part because of what I learned on my worst project. Every day’s a school day.

What I have done through my various Programme Director roles is to develop an understanding of what made for a successful – and enjoyable – project board. There are things you can do, that help to make things go more smoothly. Here’s my three steps to an enjoyable project board.

  1. No surprises
    Sounds obvious. However, we often get caught up in the “franticness” of delivery and forget to do the basic thing – communicate. A project board should be a forum for discussing issues that have already been surfaced.
    Unless it’s winning the lottery, people don’t like surprises, consult with your stakeholders, brief the chair in advance. Give people the opportunity to think through what their position is. Just don’t go in and deliver bad news that isn’t already expected – the client has nowhere to go, and may lose face, which will damage your relationship with them. Similarly, with good news, make sure the client is briefed, so that you and the team get the appropriate accolades.

  2. Know your stuff
    Make sure you are on top of your delivery, your data, your reporting. No one, the client included, wants to be in a project board where you are fumbling around for the information, or presenting the wrong data. Get your slides together; get your reports sorted; make sure you’ve had them reviewed by the appropriate people before issuing them. Sure, you can wing it from time to time. But you’ll only get away with that if you’re normally on top of your game.  

  3. Broker in advance
    If, or rather, when, there are contentious issues, broker an agreement in advance. Don’t seek to use the board as the negotiating panel if you can avoid it. Knowing what needs to be agreed, knowing what the agreement is, and then publicly walking through that agreement in the board is far better. If you try and broker agreements in the board, you may easily get caught out.
    None of the above is about delivery, and that’s an important point. It’s about how you deliver, not what you deliver. A project manager that is delivering on time, to budget, to quality, could quite rightly expect their project boards to be enjoyable. However, if the project manager hasn’t worked the room in advance, hasn’t consulted with stakeholders, I guarantee something will emerge to trip them up. A question they weren’t expecting; a perspective that’s new; a new issue being surfaced. Ultimately you want everyone to walk out of the room with their heads held high, regardless of whether everyone agrees, and the best way to achieve that is to communicate in advance.
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17 Feb 2019 Marcus L Daub
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I agree that when giving any presentation where you are the keynote, you must be prepared to almost the finite level. This will give credibility where there is none and increase trust when coming from a source of providence
29 May 2019 Herman Brits
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I fully agree with this blog.
In my project manager role, I work very closely with the project board at all times. This actually makes my life much easier, as there's no surprises for the project board or me...vice versa.
14 Sep 2020 Maciek
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Well, why should you lie to people who you are working with? That's point 1.

What's the point of painting the grass green?
That's point 2.

Unless you are an almighty being who knows everything it'd be reasonable to share what needs to be shared with the board. The truth will surface one way or the other at some point.

Be transparent to the point you'd like others to be transparent.
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