Organizing for Steering Committee Success
January 14, 2014
The project steering committee is formed to provide executive oversight, advocacy, support and decision making for a single project, multiple projects or an entire project portfolio. As the name indicates, steering committees are formed to “steer”, not to “manage”. Depending on the assigned project (or portfolio) scope, steering committees will be be called upon to make multiple decisions and issue multiple directives to guide the project (or portfolio) to the desired result. Committee success depends on the ability to execute governing responsibilities, while allowing the project manager "to manage" and the project team to "perform".
The Four (4) Keys of Committee Success
What does it take to achieve steering committee success? It all begins with organization, combining the mission, appropriate organizational structure, and related procedures into flexible operational strategies. At a minimum, the following "must-do's" are essential:
1. You've got to define the mission,
to establish committee purpose goals and objectives.
2. You've got to create a documented charter to establish organizational and operational procedures).
3. You've got to allocate roles and responsibilities, so work can get done in a timely manner.
4. You've got to communicate to establish and maintain a collaborative, productive work environment.
Define the Committee Mission
The committee mission establishes the purpose and scope of a given steering committee. A clearly stated "mission" provides the boundaries, direction and guidelines under which the steering committee will operate and make decisions. To avoid the common pitfalls, this mission must be clearly stated, relevant to the project and approved by the key stakeholders (as per the define/align/approve standard.) In order to achieve these goals, the committee "mission" is documented as part of a formal organizational process. As a general guideline, documented "mission statements" must address the following key questions:
1. What is the purpose of the committee?
2. What are the expected results?
3. What will be accomplished (considering goals, objectives and deliverables)?
4. What are the guiding principles for committee operations and participation?
5. Why is this committee important and necessary?
6. What value will this committee bring to the project and/or project portfolio?
|COMMITTEE MISSION STATEMENT EXAMPLES|
|"The primary objective for the [Steering Committee Name] is to provide consistent, timely and meaningful oversight for the [subject project(s) or portfolio(s)]."|
|"The [Steering Committee Name] 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 Name] will strive to resolve conflicts and make informed decisions regarding changes to project scope and deliverables."|
|"The [Steering Committee Name] will provide management support, direction and advice to the project manager and the project team."|
|"The [Steering Committee Name] will monitor project progress and respond to problems as needed."|
|"The [Steering Committee Name] will take all authorized actions to ensure that each project remains aligned with changing business circumstances and objectives."|
Preparing the Committee Charter
The quickest path to steering committee success is with an approved "charter" setting boundaries, and documenting committee purpose, scope, authority, organizational structure and operational guidelines. Charters should provide a member roster, listing the committee members by name and role, as well as expected committee deliverables and actionable procedures such as meeting scheduling, rules of conduct, voting requirements and related matters. As the committee charter is prepared in expectation and anticipation of formal acceptance, the following defining questions must be addressed:
1. How many members are required?
2. What types of committee positions will be created?
3. What is the committee scope (single project, multi-project, portfolio)?
4. What types of meetings will be required (regular, special, workshop, etc)?
5. How often will meetings be held?
6. Will Roberts Rules be followed during meetings and for motions?
7. What types of voting procedures and thresholds will be followed?
8. What are the expected deliverables to be produced by committee action?
9. How long will the committee be expected to operate?
10. How will the committee close operations once the mission is fulfilled?
Allocating Committee Roles and Responsibilities
Project steering committees operate more efficiently and with less risk when the designated “mission” is executed under a formal, hierarchical organizational structure. Steering committees (like any other type of project committee) are deliberative bodies, formed to make important, complex, and time-sensitive decisions. When appropriately applied, operational “structure” is the most effective and cost feasible mechanism to facilitate the decision making process. Structure provides a framework of accountability for how committee work gets done. It also creates a working “dynamic” designed to set expectations, minimize conflicts and eliminate bottlenecks. By definition, steering committees require strong leadership… not to dictate, but to guide the committee members through the myriad of actions to be taken and decisions to be made. At a minimum, committee roles and responsibilities should account for the following elements:
1. Someone has to lead the committee and oversee
operations. (Committee Chair and Vice-Chair).
2. Someone has to keep a record of committee actions and decisions (Secretary).
3. Someone has to oversee the use and allocation of the committee budget (Treasurer).
4. One or more individuals have to provide the functional skills and expertise to fulfill the designated mission considering the assigned scope and subject matter. (Members-At-Large).
Avoiding the Pitfalls Through Communication
The biggest threat to steering committee success is the risk of micromanagement - losing sight of that key distinction between directing the work effort (from a vision point of view) and managing the work effort (to produce specific results). It's a fine line, and can only be properly navigated when everyone is willing to work together in a collaborative fashion.
Steering committee success is a two way street. The project manager, team and customers must recognize that steering committees have to "steer", and all related governance directives must be respected and accepted. The project manager and the team must keep the committee fully informed and engaged, and seek guidance as warranted and appropriate. The key to steering committee success is cooperation and collaboration, beginning with a fully defined mission, embraced by all.
Tips to Steer By:
1. Keep committee size small. Fewer members - fewer conflicts.
2. Appoint members with diverse "representative" interests.
3. Define operational procedures in specific, measureable and actionable terms.
4. Use structured practices for meetings, motions and voting so that everyone knows what to expect.
5. Establish a working "code of conduct" and enforce it on a consistent basis.
6. Conduct regular reviews of committee performance to ensure that the mission is being met.
For tangible success, project teams must be organized according to project needs and capabilities. Team structure can either impede or promote progress, and you want to ensure the latter.
In Need of a Project
Management support is the cornerstone of project success, providing authority, acceptance and direction. Sponsorship must be there from the start, to ensure proper support for every step.
Motivating the Team
It takes the right combination of strategies and tactics to motivate project teams and overcome the most common obstacles to collaboration and cooperation. Learn how its done.
Making Committees Work
What are the most important characteristics of committee success? Size? Composition? Organization? Communication? A documented charter? Learn all about the "top 5" ways to deliver committee success in this quick reference IT-Manage infographic.
About Project Governance
Once vision and work effort has been defined it's time to figure out how the project will be managed from a procedural and operational point of view. Governance planning is all about making the process fit the project, covering (10) operational subject matters.
Roles, Interests, Influence
At the end of the day, projects are all about the people who have to make them happen and those who received the results. To be successful, you must have a full understanding of all the interests and influences of the people involved.