I spend a lot of my time in the early stages of a project as an Alliance coach with board and governance groups along with the management teams.  This could be in the form of a Project Alliance Board, Alliance Leadership Team or some other governance group depending on the procurement model chosen for the project.

A consistent theme that is a priority in the early formation of these Boards is the importance of being structured and set up as a forward-looking board.  That is, a strong focus on governance, adding value and proactively looking to anticipate the key challenges the project may be experiencing that the Board needs to support, provide direction and more importantly challenge and align with the management team on.

This is often challenging for many Board members as they have come from management roles in their home organisations which lend themselves to being very operationally focused.  There is a need for them to be across the details but this is not the primary focus of the Board.  The balance of being on and in the project is important to ensure expectations between the Board and the management team are aligned up front so that both can play their roles effectively.  An illustration of an effective balance between being on and in the project as a Board is as follows:

The insights from McKinsey’s recent article on the importance of a forward looking board are very relevant for all PAB, ALT and Governance group members that govern and lead infrastructure projects which can be found here.  This article really nails the importance of challenging the board from the start about being on the project with its discussions, agendas, meetings right through to what they do between meetings and even the reporting they receive through to the Board from the management team.

To support this principle and to bring it to life, one of the first things I will do with a Board on a project is establish their forward plan as part of an initial PAB only strategy workshop.  That is, we map out the key areas of focus for the agenda for the next 12 months for the PAB to ensure they are really clear on expectations with their management team on the focus of each meeting in line with the key focus areas, risks and opportunities of the project at a point in time.  This exercise is excellent in really aligning the Board with their key functions and responsibilities aligned with the table above.

In terms of what this looks like, I have provided a link to a forward plan modelled off the Project Alliance Board (PAB) of Te Tupu Ngātahi which has undertaken this practice regularly over the lifetime of its Alliance.

PAB Forward Plan
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The benefits of having this forward plan are many including:

  • It challenges the Board to be forward looking;
  • The management team can proactively manage the expectations of the Board;
  • The management team get real value out of the Board as the discussions are strategic, forward looking and focussed on the right things;
  • The management team are clear that there responsibility is to lead the Alliance, manage the operational delivery of the project and also proactively manage the Board;
  • It changes the conversations with the management team to being forward looking, adding value and alignment rather than just looking backwards;
  • Reporting to the Board very much aligns with the forward plan; and
  • The Board is also externally focused outside of the project looking to anticipate and proactively manage risk and opportunities with the management team.

Getting this right from the start of a project is critical to ensuring effective governance is in place and Board members and the management team know their respective roles and responsibilities.   Taking the time to plan this out and align as a Board with the management team on this forward plan is one of the best investments a Board can make.