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PM Essence
The Murder Board A Technique in Project Management

- Arun R Yadwad, Delivery Manager, Professional Access Software Development Pvt Ltd, Bangalore

The weird, 'better-to-avoid' term Murder Board sounds like of the title of a thriller soaps. But, despite the unusual name, it has nothing to do with any such criminal or any such negative ingredients. Put in simple words it is a methodology or technique being followed to achieve different objectives in the industry today.

You might wonder; but this complete technique works only on negative and constructive approach.

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I am not sure how many of us actually can take a purely negative, cut-throat, hard to digest, realistic hard hitting feedback on our work, ideas, personality and life. Believe it or not this is the very theme of any Murder Board. But the objective is very noble and it is to bring out the best in you. The only expectation is you do not crumble under pressure to the direct questions and hard approach this methodology takes.

The term Murder Board has its origins within the U.S. military, specifically within the extensive training system of the U.S. Army. When a person has been selected to be an instructor at an Army school, he or she must go through a demanding instructor training program.

As you know, even in many of today's Indian Army selection tests, the same methodology is being used.

An ideal Murder Board consists of a panel of experts in different fields.

All your skills will be tested to the core and at every step you will be faced with challenges of higher magnitude. You need to overcome them and perform better without losing your confidence and come out successful.

Many of the reality shows on television (Ex: Roadies on MTV) use the Murder Board technique for their Auditions. The auditions may be very hard to get through, but the candidates who clear these auditions have gone ahead further become some of the best participants. Objective here is to prepare all the candidates for the tough tests and mental fitness that the show expects from them.

An ideal Murder Board consists of a panel of experts in different fields. They have this unique capability of looking at any given person, idea, problem, situation, proposal from a completely different angle. Their main motto is to shoot down the idea, problem, proposal or the concept presented to them through their ruthless questioning. The name "Murder Board" comes from the fact that these members actually want to murder the whole idea. Their approach is to conduct the much needed 'acid test' for all such ideas/concepts. If the presenter can successfully defend and answer their questions, then the idea/concept passes the Murder Board test and goes to next round of review. Thus the Murder Board achieves its objective of only passing/selecting good ideas and concepts.

There are different objectives any Murder Board would like to achieve. Some of them are

  • As Project Selection Methodology
  • As tool for Practicing a public speech

As Project Selection Methodology

The program management community across the globe uses this Murder Board technique for Project Selection, Cost-Benefit Analysis and evaluating new ideas. The role of Murder Board is very vital especially in the companies where which are dependent on competitive bids for their business. In such companies, the Murder Board is a highest level board or group that examines all the ongoing proposals to determine whether the project should be pursued or not. Also it is very fast method of selecting or discarding any projects.

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The Murder Board is comprised of senior managers and SME (Subject Matter Experts) The Murder board meets on a regular basis, usually once/twice a month to hear the briefings of Projects. The Project representative presents the proposal to Murder Board. They attempt to scrutinize and find various reasons not to pursue any project. The presenter has to counter all sorts of queries and defend the proposal.

A tool for practicing a public speech

Of course the criminal act and public speech have nothing in common. But the Murder Board is a realistic simulation of the actual presentation to be made. Some of your team members would roleplay the audience, asking everything to enable the presenter to become a public speaker. They do complete postmortem of your speech and test your patience, speaking, presentation situation and audience management skills. You might get nervous the first time you face the Murder Board. Once you go through 2-3 iterations and work on the feedback given by Murder Board, your speech will gradually improve.

The Murder board prescribes only direct pills and not the sugar coated one for you to improve. The Murder Board is like presenter's version of the actor's dress rehearsal, what lawyers do in preparing a witness to face cross-examination in a trial; or what the flight simulator is to the pilot.

At the end of the Murder Board session the presenter would get either a "thumbs up"-- meaning he or she can now join this band of successful speakers, or a thumbs-down, meaning another “opportunity” to go through a Murder Board.

The Murder Board enables you to visualize the presentation in advance. Not only proficiency in speaking increased by such a meticulous practice, self-confidence increases too. Public speaking ranks high in the pantheon of phobias because of apprehension that one is going to be embarrassed by not being able to answer questions from the audience.

The members of the Murder Board can be people who themselves have gone through the grueling rounds of their own Murder Board, and are determined that this would-be speaker will experience the same frustration and humiliation they did. They ask tough, realistic, questions, the type of questions the real audience would ask.

Apart from the above two applications, the technique can also be used in the following areas.

  • Architectural and Technical Design Reviews
  • Selection of PM candidates for complex and high visibility projects
  • Ideation Workshops
  • Review of Technical Papers and many more...

 

Advantages:

The Murder Board has its many advantages if implemented in an organization.

  • Because of its strong controls, it produces some of the best ideas, proposals and personalities.
  • The people, who go through the test, will be really very well prepared to face next stage review.
  • The panel which works as part of Murder board will be the best in the organization in terms of review effectiveness. All key ideas, proposal and presentations can be routed through this board.
  • This team can further leverage their knowledge and skills to improve the overall review effectiveness in the organization.
  • The advantage of the Murder Board simulation is allows you to make your mistakes when they don't count, increasing the odds that you will shine when the actual presentation is made.

Disadvantages:

In spite of usefulness and ease of this approach, the Murder Board has its own disadvantages.

  • It is a negative approach and can often kill the confidence of presenter and his team.
  • Unnecessary speculations might arise about the otherwise a really good proposal.
  • If the environment is not very matured, the presenters can hesitate to present their ideas in front of the Murder Board.
  • There can be some sort of unnecessary competition between the members of Murder Board about who will kill the idea first.
  • If the presenter is not good at his skills, even a potentially good proposal/idea might get filtered and disqualified.

Precautions to be taken while forming a Murder Board:
  • All the members should be highly knowledgeable in the respective fields.
  • They should be oriented with the thought of 'destroying for the sake of good ones'
  • The presenters should understand the dynamics of Murder Board and should take the criticism very positively.
  • There should be key person who will ensure a very high professional conduct and has the final say.
With all its pros-cons, at the end I would say a Murder Board is a must for any company, because we should know the challenges in advance and handle the competition well.

It always helps having a dry run with Murder Board before actually pursuing anything new or before actually presenting a speech to a larger audience for a Murder Board is an in-house war field which prepares you for the better and bring out the best in you.

References:
Web Site - http://www.tracy-presentation.com And Wikipedia
Book - A Survival Guide for Project Managers by James Taylor