Organizing for Steering Committee Success
Project steering committees are formed as collaborative, decision making units, charged with guiding a single project (or group of projects) to successful conclusion. As the name itself indicates, these committees are formed to “steer”, not “manage”. When that distinction is lost, the seeds of conflict and confusion are planted. Too often, poorly organized steering committees create as many problems as they solve, leading to unwanted bureaucracy, micro-management and an emphasis on internal politics over project needs.
Can these problems be avoided? Yes. And it all begins with an understanding and appreciation of what it takes to achieve steering committee success.
Not every project will require, or benefit from, a steering committee. As a rule of thumb, as project size, complexity, visibility and value increases, so does the need for a steering committee. (You can learn more about project sizing here). While needs may vary, committee formation and purpose is generally determined using a two (2) step process:
1. What is the optimum size for the committee?
2. Who should be involved?
3. What is the committee's place in the project organizational hirearchy and related level of authority?
4. Will the committee oversee one project or multiple projects?
5. Who will chair the committee?
6. Will all participants have an equal vote in decisions?
7. Will there be non-voting members?
Step 2: Defining the Steering Committeee Mission
Every committee needs its own mission – even when it’s a steering committee, with primary responsibility for the larger "project mission". To avoid the common pitfalls, steering committee mission must be clearly stated, documented and approved. (Get it documented. Download our free Mission Statement Template).
To cover all the essential bases, a well defined "mission statement" will incorporate the following elements.
|The steering committee will provide strategic oversight for designated project(s).|
|The steering committe will be responsible to maintain project focus and direction, ensuring that the project stays on track, according to defined goals, requirements and deliverables.|
|The steering committee will strive to resolve conflicts and make informed decisions regarding changes to project scope and deliverables.|
|The steering committee will provide management support, direction and advice to the project manager and the project team.|
|The steering committee will monitor project progress and respond to problems as needed.|
|The steering committee will take all authorized actions to ensure that each project remains aligned with changing business circumstances and objectives.|
FAST TRACK TIP: When it comes
to fast tracked projects,
the steering committee mission will often include the following
*To identify potential fast track opportunities.
*To determine how fast tracking will be used for a given project or group of projects.
*To identify and negotiate project priorities for potential resizing.
*To provide guidance and support to maximize available resources.
As "mission" is planned, these simple organizational guidelines should be kept in mind....
1. Keep the committee size as small as possible.
2. Select members that have subject matter or management expertise to contribute.
3. Select members that have a stake in the outcome of the project.
4. Select members that represent diverse interests (technical, operational, financial, etc.)
5. Establish a working organizational structure to define roles and responsibilities.
6. Set rules for committtee meetings, and stick to them. (Check out our Meeting Agenda Toolkit)
Of course, it can be said that steering committee success is a two way street. The project manager, team and customers must recognize that steering committees have to "steer", and that obligation must be respected and accepted. The project manager and the team must keep the committee fully informed and engaged, and seek guidance whenever warranted and appropriate. The key to steering committee success is cooperation and collaboration, beginning with a fully defined mission, embraced by all.
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