Steering committees often get a bad rap. Too controlling. Too bureaucratic. Too far removed from the real work of getting projects done. It happens – but it doesn’t have to be that way. With (4) easy steps you can get your steering committee moving in the right direction – to fill essential governance needs while still allowing the project team to flourish.
At its core, the "project steering committee" is a "governing device" used to organize key project stakeholders and empower them to "steer" a project (or group of projects) to successful conclusion.
Steering is not managing. Managing gets the job done, but steering determines what the job is. We all know that every project must be led by an underlying purpose and a vision. To deliver required results, that purpose and vision must be clearly defined, it must be monitored and it must be maintained. And that's the role of the project steering committee - to deliberate, make decisions, advise, provide strategic oversight, and to serve as the primary “advocate” for all the assigned initiatives.
Steering committee success won't happen by accident. You can pick all the best people to participate, you can all have the best of intentions, and still not succeed. So what does it take to get the results you need? Actually, it all boils down to four (4) key actions - you must define the mission, you must conduct committee business under the auspices of an approved charter, you must organize properly to get the job done, and you must live by the (3) C's of quality committees - collaboration, cooperation and communication..
Of all the various types of project committees, the steering committee "mission" is almost a given: "to steer a single project (or group of projects) to successful conclusion through governance related deliberation and decision making". (See: What is Project Governance?)
Try throwing a bunch of committee people in a room, call them the Steering Committee, vaguely define their mission and leave them on their own to figure out what it all means and how to get the job done. They might be successful for a while, but sooner or later, problems will appear. Perhaps not everyone heard the same message. Perhaps people will fight for control. Perhaps changing circumstances will throw everyone a curve ball. These are the types of risks that diminish productivity and complicate results.
Fortunately, these risks can be avoided when the mission (see above) is turned into a roadmap in the form of a documented "Committee Charter". As a roadmap, the Charter specifies how the committee will be organized and how it will operate, all from a procedural and process point of view. This is a great tool to improve productivity, save time, minimize conflict and set expectations. Read more about committee charters.
Once the mission is defined, and the Charter is approved, it's time to get organized (all in accordance with Charter terms and specifications) . Steering committees are typically staffed by key project stakeholders, all with a measureable interest and influence in both the project and the committee itself.
The right mix of people is essential (with diverse interests and capabilities), but without proper organization, even the best group may flounder. Above all, every steering committee needs a strong leader and clearly defined reporting relationships. Every assigned role and responsibility must also be clearly defined and allocated to set realistic expectations for performance and participation. See our informative infographic showing you how to get your committee organized.
At the end of the day, steering committees are "just people" appointed to do a difficult (and often thankless) job. That job will be made much easier if the surrounding work environment is consistently positive, where every voice is heard, opinions are respected, information is shared, and common sense prevails. This is brought about when committee (and project) leadership acts to promote member collaboration, cooperation and communication. Here's a few examples:
Keep committee size as small as possible to facilitate decision making and minimize internal conflicts. If needed, sub-committees can be formed to address specific issues that might require different expertise and levels of participation.
Engage the "executing" project managers and team leaders in committee discussions and deliberations (to ensure a broader "in the field" perspective).
Establish a working "code of conduct" and enforce it on a consistent basis. Also see: Committees, Cooperation and a Working Code of Conduct.
Whether it's a steering committee, a planning committee, task force or problem solving workgroup, committees are essential to project success. That's why it makes sense to approach every committee assignment with a plan, a mission, and the tools to back it up. And that's what you'll find inside the Project Committee Planner and Template Kit (from ITtoolkit.com). Learn More
Committees have a role beyond "projects", and in the IT management context, the IT Steering Committee is the organizational vehicle used to make key decisions and recommendations - to select technology and decide how it will be used. Along with all of the other elements of the IT service strategy process, the IT Service Strategy Toolkit (from ITtoolkit.com) teaches you how to organize and operate successful IT steering committees. Learn More
Project management practices and project committees! That's what you'll find inside our "best value" Fast Track Project Toolkit Bundle. This Bundle teaches you how to manage projects using "strategic project fast tracking" - a full lifecycle process, covering how projects are proposed, selected, defined, governed, monitored and reviewed. And the Bundle Edition includes the "Project Committee Planner and Template Kit" as a free bonus. Learn More
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Strategic fast tracking is a streamlined project management process, used to level the playing field when "project problems" get in the way of on-time success. Our informative "fast tracking" article series explains more:
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