Most projects of any size will have a governance body or a steering committee that oversees the project.
In this article we look at the role of the steering committee. We’ll also share some tips to help you manage your working relationship with them, so you can enjoy more successful projects and deliver better outcomes.
First, lets look at the role of the steering committee; why have one? What is the point?
The Steering Committee has a number of roles to perform:
Every Project will encounter issues. Big issues requiring big decisions need to be taken by the Steering Committee
The steering committee needs to understand the key project risks and agree the mitigation and avoidance actions that have been implemented
This support can take a number of forms but typically it is helping the project team unblock blockers to the project’s success
Not every scope change needs to be raised at the steering group but big changes to scope that may increase the budget significantly or delay the project, need to be agreed at the Steering Committee.
Key decisions that could adversely affect the project or improve the project’s success need to be taken by the Steering Committee. For example, this could include replacing a key supplier or contractor.
The scale of the transformation will require a large budget and as the project evolves this budget needs to be increased. This is a decision for the steering committee.
Checking the on-going viability of the project is a key part of the Project Steering Committee’s function.
All projects should have a steering committee unless the project is very limited in budget and scope. This group is a key governance committee that, as it says, steers the project.
There is no hard and fast rule of how often the steering committee should meet, but once a month is probably the correct frequency. Once a quarter is, probably, too long a time interval to review and steer the project.
A project can go seriously off the rails in three months!
The Steering Committee should comprise the following roles:
An effective sponsor is critical to the successful delivery of any programme or project and is a key member of your steering committee.
Many surveys cite ineffective sponsorship as one of the top causes of programme and project failures.
The following section explains the role of the programme or project sponsor and explains steps on how to ensure your sponsor is effective.
The Sponsor is typically a senior executive who is accountable for the outcomes of the programme or project being delivered by the organisation.
He or she has the vision and the understanding of what success looks like in terms of a successful delivery of a project or programme.
The programme sponsor will often be the originator or approver of the transformation programme.
They will be responsible for formulating the business case for the digital transformation programme.
The sponsor would typically lead the presentation of the business case to the governance committee.
What is often not understood is the fact that the programme sponsor is accountable for expected outcomes and benefits of the transformation programme.
First of all, the steering committee should not be seen as some bureaucratic body that is a chore to present to or a hurdle to overcome.
The steering committee should be seen as a beneficial vehicle for the project team. Here are my five top tips on managing your steering committee.
It is never a good idea to spring a major surprise on the steering committee. If they expect that the project is broadly on track but at the steering committee the project manager presents a plan that shows major slippage, this is unlikely to get a rational or thoughtful response.
This is because the bad news has been foisted on them and they may react negatively to the ‘surprise’ rather than consider constructive remedial action. Key members of the steering committee should be warmed up to any potential bad news.
Some project managers will wait until the last possible moment to give bad news on the vague hope that the bad news may not need to be given as it may go away.
It rarely does and the later the bad news is given the less opportunity the steering committee has taking remedial action.
Some project managers will cover up project problems and tell the steering committee that everything is green. This is similar to Tip 2. If a project status is red then the Steering Committee needs to know it is red. If you have an action plan that is a ‘road to green’ even better.
One or more of your steering committee may not have been involved in projects or sat on a steering committee before. At your first steering committee it is always a good idea to brief the members on what is expected of them.
A steering committee is not there to inflict a punishment beating but to steer and guide the project so that it is ultimately successful.
One of the roles of the steering committee is to make decisions on important aspects of the project.
For example, there may have been a request to increase the scope of the project and consequently the project budget. The steering committee may be needed to arbitrate on whether this scope change is accepted or not.
At each steering group, be clear on the decisions that you need that steering committee to take.
And document them!
The Steering committee can be a force of good for a project. It can work with the project team so that the expected outcomes are delivered to an acceptable time and cost.
If you, as a project manager, follow these five tips then not only will you have a better relationship with the steering committee, but you are also more likely to be delivering a successful project.