Avoiding difficult questions at the Project Board

When presenting you status update or progress spotlight to the Project Board there are a few golden rules. Follow them and you should avoid difficult questions. Ignoring them could spell trouble.

Golden rule 1 – know your audience

Portrait of a young businesswomanThis is the top rule for any presentation, sales pitch or any form of communication. Don’t make assumptions. Do the leg work and find out about your Project Board members. What is there angle on your project? What are their WiiFMs (what’s in it for me factors) so you can understand where they are coming from (see my earlier blog on WiiFMs at http://www.arra-pm.com/understanding-stakeholder-wiifms/). Do they have a particular approach? Are they mainly interested in the numbers? Do they have pet subjects or pet hates.

Armed with this knowledge you can ensure your update covers their angles and doesn’t give them hooks to latch on to.

Golden rule 2 – know your facts

iStock_000016744642Small business caseIt’s your project so you need to be the expert on it. Don’t mention anything in the report you can’t back up with more detail and evidence. If you do get challenged and don’t have the answer immediately to hand, commit to providing the answer within a reasonable time, preferably within 24 hours.



Golden rule 3 – be open and honest

Label of wording stick in the glass box of color stoneThat doesn’t mean baring your soul and fessing up every last little problem you encounter. But don’t be economical with the truth either. Lies have a nasty habit of catching you out. If you know something is an untruth how do you know a member of the Project Board doesn’t know it too. And if you have to admit to an untruth, out goes the trust you’ve been building and everything else you say becomes questioned.



Golden rule 4 – don’t try to be too clever

iStock_000011337027Small chessOne programme manager I worked with wanted to show that the programme was running well despite a couple of problem returns. He wanted to use a colour coded pie chart showing the percentages of returns on track, under challenge but expected to be ok, and those with problems. The issue was


the project covered three divisions and each had problems with different returns so he decided to show an average. Not an unreasonable proxy for status on the face of it.

However, in the Programme Board the members focused on the problem returns. Which ones were they? So the PM explained it was x1, x2 and x3. Oh but that was for Division A. For Division B it was y3 and y7 and for Division C it was x2, z1 and z3. Suddenly a small average percentage involves a much higher percentage of returns. What else was the PM trying to manipulate? Can the status really be trusted?

An attempt to simplify thus turned into an issue of credibility, and all with a project that was pretty much on track for its longer term delivery.

Golden rule 5 – don’t invite questions you don’t want/need to answer

questionsThe problem above was, the pie chart invited the question of which returns are causing problems. That lead to an impression the problem was bigger than it actually was. Had the numbers and details been given by Division the question wouldn’t have arisen.



Don’t omit information just because you don’t want to answer questions on it. Chances are the omission will be spotted and you’ll be asked anyway. Just present it in a way to defuse questions rather than invite them.

Tagged with: , ,
One comment on “Avoiding difficult questions at the Project Board
  1. Hi Allen,
    This is a useful checklist and certainly rings true! Thanks for sharing it.
    My pet favorite tip is to spend the time before the meeting working with the participants to understand their questions, issues, motivations etc.

    If you know there are going to be difficult questions raised, then it really does pay to canvas those beforehand and understand the participants’points of view and expectations – before you go into the meeting.

    If you can enter the room with a general agreement beforehand, then you reduce the likelihood of an aggressive, confrontational meeting.

    Spend the time – know the audience, canvas the issues, work towards an agreement in principle, and enter the meeting with the general shape of a resolution in place.

    Many thanks,Tony

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *