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What is the role of the Project Board?

Is the PRINCE2 Project Board essential?

Approval and authorisation

One key tool for clarifying what is expected of the project, and to maximise the likelihood that the project will indeed fulfil those expectations, is to require approval of specific products (both management products and specialist products), and authorisation of important activities, such as project initiation, project start, and subsequent management stages.

The primary type of management product that requires Project Board approval is baseline documents, which are used by the project manager throughout the project as guidance for planning, carrying out, and controlling project management activities. These include the Project Brief (often created by corporate/program management, or derived from the initial project mandate), Plans (including Stage Plans and Exception Plans), the Project Initiation Documentation, and each Product Description. Eliciting Project Board approval for such documents gives the project manager the confidence and authority to manage the project independently of the Project Board, while minimising the risk of the project going beyond acceptable bounds (e.g. through scope creep or scheduling delays).

Supervise the project manager

According to the PRINCE2 manual, the project manager “has the authority to run the project on a day-to-day basis on behalf of the Project Board within the constraints laid down by them” (Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2 2009, Appendix C.5). If the Project Board is responsible for assuring the success of the project, then the project manager is the agent to bring about this success. This role can be articulated in terms of the features of the project that the project manager is directly responsible for. The project must:

  • Create the required products;
  • Adhere to pre-determined tolerances, in terms of time, cost, quality, scope, risk, and benefits;
  • Produce results that are capable of achieving the benefits established in the Business Case as reasons for the project.

In order to facilitate the project manager in achieving this task, the Project Board, as we have already seen, reviews and authorises all primary documentation related to the project’s products, including the supplier contract, acceptance criteria, and Product Descriptions. This ensures that the Project Board and the project manager are aligned in what they think is expected of the project, and that the customer’s requirements have been examined and agreed to by the Project Board.

The Project Board is also responsible for setting project tolerances, and confirming these tolerances with corporate/program management. This is a crucial means of establishing the basic limits of the project according to the agreement of those who will supply the resources. Tolerances are also set for each management stage, and although the project manager is responsible for defining these, the Project Board’s approval is again required.

As well as setting and approving tolerance levels, the Project Board also determines the scales for severity and priority ratings. These scales are used to evaluate issues and risks on a project, and play a similar role to tolerances in facilitating high-level control of project progress. Determining unambiguous and appropriate scales for the severity and priority of a project issue/risk enables the project manager to evaluate a situation, and to know clearly whether it is something that falls under their own authority, or should be escalated to the Project Board.

Finally, while the Project Board should not be constantly drawn into the daily affairs of the project—this is, after all, the point of having a project manager—it should be available to provide ad hoc advice and overall guidance and direction, to ensure that the project stays on track, for example by checking that risks are being tracked and managed, and making decisions on escalated issues.

The Project Board is not the primary source of information and management for the project, in terms of decisions that are made on a day-to-day basis. However, as the repository for ultimate authority and responsibility on the project, the Project Board plays a key leadership role, and is central both to the activities of the project team and their relationship with external stakeholders.

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Simon Buehring is an experienced project manager, consultant and trainer, with extensive experience in the IT industry. He is the managing director of Knowledge Train, which offers PRINCE2 online courses. Contact him via email
Simon Buehring has written 3 articles for us.