An earlier question, Managing Without Meetings, was mainly focused on the number and frequency of internal team meetings. This question is about project board meetings that are scheduled to take place on a regular monthly basis, and therefore don't usually coincide with the end of stages.

This is not my project, but what I have observed is:

  • The board members like the predictability and feeling of involvement that this gives them, but the meetings tend to be "talking shops" that don't achieve very much.
  • The project is supposedly run using Prince 2, but is subject to a variety of "interpretations" of the methodology.
  • The project executive will make decisions regarding issues and risks outside the planned meetings, and then present these decisions to the Board as a done deal - probably because the meeting schedules are not aligned to the needs of the project.
  • There is an higher level Programme Board that meets monthly, so the project board meetings are aligned to it, to allow the Executive (who is a member of both boards) to report on project progress.

Given that fixed, regular meetings, scheduled months in advance, are a cultural aspect of working within parts of the UK public sector, should I advise the PM to accept that this is the way that things have to be, or should he try to persuade the project executive that there may be a better way?

5 Answers 5


Accepting status quo is the end of learning, growing, improving, advancing, and correcting. Even seemingly bad ideas often times are the root of great ones. Culture is hard to change; it took a long time to create so it will take a long time to evolve it.

Meetings are notorious for being wastes of time; however, there are easy to implement rules that help with that. Also, your communication requirements require information exchange and meetings are a vehicle to that. So you need to be careful that any improvements made in one area do not damage a capability in another, unless you can justify it.

I opine that it is bad coaching to ever tell anyone, no matter the level within the organization, to just accept something as the way it is. Nothing is ever perfect and, if someone has a good idea where I might be able to squeeze out a tiny piece of benefit, I want to hear about it!

  • Agreed, but sometimes the best bit about hitting your head against a wall is the relief of stopping. But the reason for keeping going is that if no-one ever pushes back, nothing will change. Conversely, if enough people push in the same direction over a long enough period, change will eventually happen.
    – Iain9688
    Commented Mar 25, 2011 at 12:40

I would advise to match the Project Board meetings as much as possible with the important events and stage approvals of the project. Otherwise you'll get delays because of late decisions and risk of continue to work without the proper approval.

Unless the project executive takes all responsibility for these decisions. Than the Board doesn't really matter. In that case make sure all decisions by the executive are clearly documented and ratified by the board afterwards.

Make sure your Project Executive understands this responsibility; but if he has the power and the money, why wait for a Board. But make sure you have understanding and/or informal approval from the important other members of the board.

To be honest, I like to work more with a good project executive (or sponsor) than with a sluggish board.

It is often said that Steering Comittees don't steer ...

  • did the .xla work for you? Commented Mar 25, 2011 at 11:10
  • Not sure what you mean by .xla, but no-one in this scenario worked for me - I was a colleague of the PM, at a similar level in the organisation. We would discuss our projects and try to help each other - that's all.
    – Iain9688
    Commented Mar 25, 2011 at 12:14
  • 1
    I like the comment that Steering Committees don't steer. Hadn't heard that before, but one good (similar) view is that the most effective committee has only two members, of whom one never turns up.
    – Iain9688
    Commented Mar 25, 2011 at 12:15
  • Sorry, ILM, the .xla was a message to Stephan. I did not mean to hijack your thread. Commented Mar 25, 2011 at 12:19
  • No worries @David. I just thought it was shorthand for some project role that I couldn't work out! (PS - I just changed my display name to one that I use elsewhere - ILM = Iain9688)
    – Iain9688
    Commented Mar 25, 2011 at 12:42

I think be major criterion to measure whether project board meetings contribute to the progress of a project is whether they help to give overall direction or their cyclic timing rather blocks overall progress.

Reading your question, I understand that the PM has the authority to make operational decisions himself, and only reports them to the board afterward. That sounds like an excellent setup to me! It would be very bad would his decisions be overruled there and several tasks to be un- or redone, but your particular setup sounds really good to me.

What in my understanding the board should then still do is giving overall direction and mid-term goals. I think it should be possible to foresee those core-questions in advance and raise them during the next meeting. For all other questions that require immediate decision I think it is actually very helpful that the next meeting is not required to be waited for and PM can make decisions himself instead.

  • the set-up is that the PM has to refer significant decisions to the project executive (sponsor, in some people's terminology), and gets decisions from the executive. Sometimes these questions relate to matters that may impact on other members of the Board, but the executive does not always refer to them. It is a somewhat unusual arrangement, due to the specific nature of this very rank-based, hierarchic organisation.
    – Iain9688
    Commented Mar 27, 2011 at 10:17

Pick your battles. If you can show value to the people on the boards to change their schedule to match your needs, it's worth a try. Be careful that you are not trying to change this structure for your own reasons. Remember they meet for subjects other than your project. Most of my projects have to report to a board of executives in one way or another and they have their schedule. I have no problem meeting their schedule because I a) know when I have to report, and b) know how to compose my reports to give them the information they need without messing up my schedule.

  • +1 for "Pick your battles", which is very appropriate in this instance.
    – Iain9688
    Commented Mar 27, 2011 at 10:18

The answer that I'm going to take from those provided is a combination of what @David Espina and @Perry Wilson said. It could be argued that they are completely opposing positions, but I don't think this is the only way to look at it. My interpretation is this:

I will advise the PM that he should engage the Project Executive in a discussion about whether the Project Board could be more helpful to both of them, by taking some pressure off the Executive, and providing a breadth of perspective to the PM that the Executive alone cannot achieve. If this achieves nothing, then the PM should back off, having at least opened the conversation, and hopefully made the Executive think about the issue. Don't accept the status quo, and don't start a battle either.

If the Executive does take on board these comments, the Executive may help to spread the message to his peers on the Programme Board, and start to effect a change across the whole organisation. Such a change will be slow, but dripping water can carve a hole in a rock, if it is given enough time.

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