Martin P Wilson

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Unlock decisions from adviceThe over-large project board discussed in a previous ThoughtsProject Governance, Less is More was brought about, in part at least, by confusing the different roles of key stakeholders. A common problem on large projects is to give equal authority to advisers and decision-makers.

Do not Confuse Advice with Authority

On large projects with many, diverse, user groups there is a need to consult widely with many subject matter experts to ensure that there are no gaps in the project requirements and all needs have been understood. Once understood not all the stated needs may be accepted into the scope of the project board. That is the responsibility of the project owner and a small, selected team authorised to define the scope and budget for the project. That group, essentially the project board, will be accountable for delivering the project scope once the budget holder’s senior management team has approved the project details. For large or strategic projects, it will often require board or executive management team approval.

Many user groups will believe that they have a say in making the decision as to what should be in scope. In reality, they need consulting and their needs considered alongside those of many other interested parties. However, there will need to be a decision that balances conflicting requirements between groups. As a result, such subject matter experts can only advise as they have vested interests and may not have the full strategic picture. To facilitate those discussions a committee of senior users may be appropriate to explore the wider picture and ensure that it is complete even if issues of scope remain unresolved.

It may even be a hierarchy of committees so that individual communities of users can agree their needs and have them represented in a wider forum that advises the decision making body on the desired scope and priorities. That senior advisory body should usually be chaired by the senior user from the project board so that he or she is conversant with the advice and can represent in a separate decision making body.

Separate Decision Making from Advice

The decision makers, especially the project board, should then be a separate body with the senior user as one of its members. That senior user is there to represent the views and discussions of the wider user community and support the project board in making the decision on scope and other matters affecting the project. The senior user should recommend to the project board how any unresolved scope issues should be resolved, and why. Once the project board has taken decisions on those and other matters the senior user should own the decision as a member of the project board and explain and, if necessary, “sell” it back to the wider user community.

The senior user should have the confidence of the whole user community; otherwise, the earlier problem arises of adding more users to the project board to give a “balanced” view. Such overgrown project boards become talking shops that create delay and perverse or inconsistent decisions.

Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed – RACI Matrix

As part of initiation, the project manager should produce a RACI matrix (a separate article in due course) which sets out who is responsible, accountable, consulted and informed with regard to decisions. The governance structure should acknowledge those roles and provide separate boards, committees and other forums that only take one of those roles.

Above all decision making should be preeminent and separate from consultative and advisory bodies however senior their membership.

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