The role of project boards: Success factors for complex projects

Successful project delivery is a complex task that requires effective coordination and management. Project managers, project teams and technical departments work closely together to make a project a success. In many organisations, this collaboration is supported by a higher level of project governance. How these differ and the role that project boards play in project success is explained below. It also identifies the key success factors for successful collaboration between project boards and operational project management.
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Operational vs. strategic project management

Project management can be divided into an operational and a strategic area. While operational project management involves the planning, execution and coordination of the project team and departments involved to achieve the project's objectives, strategic project management is concerned with aligning the project with the organisation's objectives. Both areas are interdependent and must be effectively coordinated to ensure the success of the project.
The project manager is responsible for the operational control of the project and coordinates the necessary resources and actions to deliver the project within the given time, budget and quality framework. Strategic project management, on the other hand, focuses on aligning the project with the strategic goals of the organisation. Put simply, it means doing the right projects. This involves defining project goals and benefits and setting priorities within the organisation. Strategic project management is carried out by senior management or a project board.
Effective collaboration between operational and strategic project management is essential for project success. The specifications from the strategic project management need to be transferred to the operational project management to ensure that the project is carried out in line with the strategic goals of the organisation. Project boards, such as the steering committee or the project portfolio board, play an important role in this context.

Steering committee: project boards in the individual project

At the individual project level, the steering committee plays a central role. It is set up specifically for the project and is made up of members of senior management, ideally at least one level above the highest level of management involved in the project, and the client, if applicable. The steering committee has a number of roles and responsibilities. For example, it delegates authority to the project manager, monitors the progress of the project and decides whether to accept or reject milestone results. The steering committee can also mediate and resolve conflicts between the project manager and the line. Once the project goal has been achieved, the steering committee disbands.
The steering committee ensures that the project is in line with the company's goals and strategies and supports the project manager in the implementation of the project. The involvement of senior management ensures that the project receives the necessary attention and resources and is strategically aligned. The steering committee assists the project manager in setting goals and milestones, monitors the progress of the project, and ensures that the project stays within the planned budget and timeframe. If necessary, decisions can be made about changes to the project plan or the allocation of resources.
If conflicts arise between the project manager and the organisation, the steering committee helps to resolve them. Such conflicts are most likely to arise when a project is organised in a matrix structure and project participants work both for the project and for the day-to-day business. They can arise from differences in working methods, priorities or responsibilities. The steering committee can act as a mediator and help to find solutions that are acceptable to all.
In addition to mediating conflicts, the steering committee is also an important mechanism for communication and information exchange between the project manager and management. Regular reports to the committee ensure that management is aware of the project's progress and can intervene if necessary. At the same time, the steering committee provides a platform for the project manager to share concerns and challenges, and to ask for support or resources. In this way, the steering committee is a key steering body in the individual project, ensuring that the project is implemented successfully and in line with the company's strategic objectives.

Portfolio board: project boards for the overall portfolio

The portfolio board is a project board that is responsible for a company's entire portfolio. In order to be able to make important decisions, the members of the portfolio board must be fully aware of the company's strategy and project portfolio. It must therefore include senior executives from the company. The portfolio board is identical to the company's management if it includes members of the board of directors or senior management. Alternatively, the project portfolio board can be one level lower in the hierarchy, and thus subordinate to the board or management, in order to reduce their workload. The project portfolio board can be used, for example, for all development or investment projects in an organisation.
The project portfolio board initiates projects and selects sensible ones from the set of proposed projects, stops hopeless projects and prioritises the selected projects. It sets the overall objectives for the projects and appoints project managers and steering committee members. The portfolio board also acts as a mediator in conflicts between project managers. Effective collaboration between the portfolio board and the steering committee at the project level is important to ensure that the overall portfolio is delivered in line with the organisation's strategic objectives. This is not just about the individual project, but about the whole portfolio, which is made up of several projects. The portfolio board needs to ensure that the portfolio is balanced and that projects have a clear priority. Potential interdependencies between projects must also be taken into account to ensure that the portfolio as a whole is successful.
For the portfolio board to be effective, clear decision-making processes need to be established. Communication plays an important role in this. The portfolio board must be regularly informed about the progress of the projects and be able to react quickly to changes. It is important that the projects produce standardised reports and that communication between the portfolio board and the project managers of the individual projects runs smoothly.

Why project boards contribute to the success of projects

Project boards contribute to the success of projects in many ways. They play a particularly important role in creating transparency through regular reporting and monitoring of project progress. Having a comprehensive view of the project or project portfolio, project boards can act more objectively than the project manager and thus provide new suggestions that can lead to improvements in project quality. In general, they enable the monitoring of standards and guidelines and the identification of quality improvement opportunities to avoid errors and problems that can lead to delays and additional costs.
In addition to improving quality, project boards can also contribute to cost savings by helping to prioritise projects in the portfolio and better allocate limited resources. By working closely with stakeholders, they can ensure that projects with the greatest value and contribution to business objectives are prioritised. Similarly, they can maximise project profitability by monitoring progress and costs and ensuring that project managers deliver their projects within budget and with the expected outcomes.
As project boards are superior to project managers, their responsibilities also include monitoring compliance with legal and regulatory requirements. They ensure that projects are carried out in accordance with applicable laws and regulations and that potential risks and liabilities are avoided. Through this close monitoring, project boards can also help to identify problems and bottlenecks early and deal with them quickly before they become major issues.


A project manager who is aware of the various boards that influence the project, their staffing and competencies, will be more effective in his task, reduce the potential for conflict and increase the likelihood of bringing the project to a successful completion. If he knows his position in these bodies and communicates skilfully as the first project leader, he will be able to recognize many challenges in time and underpin them with qualified solutions. It is to be expected that he will be able to lead his project with more joy than a project manager who is blind on the structural-organisational level.

Project boards - The Author
Author: Dr. Roland Ottmann
Keywords: Project management, Project boards

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