What Is A Steering Committee, a.k.a. SteerCo? Plus, 10 Tips to Reach Great Results
I remember my first time in a Steering Committee (a.k.a. SteerCo). You have all those senior executives who make difficult decisions all day long: who to hire, who to fire, where to invest, and you just trying to make sure you do not say something stupid that will make them fire you! But it is not as bad as I thought.
SteerCo is an advisory body, often part of project governance. Committee will consist of senior business managers and experts who can make things happen or provide the right advice. The group should support and enable the project manager to accomplish tasks that allow achieving broader business objectives.
Hence, they are not here to intimidate you, quite the opposite actually. SteerCo is here to help you. The group plays a vital role in project management, and it is essential for project success in any organisation. Knowing what a steering committee is, helps us understand the importance of this advisory body and utilise it to ensure smooth project execution.
Yet, there is a bit more to learn to appreciate the full group’s importance than the description above. In the rest of the post, we will dive deeper into various aspects and qualities of a Steering Committee. What could make it an enabler or hinder the project and organisation success? Plus, we will look into 10 tips that could allow your SteerCo to get better results. Shall we?!
What Is The Role Of A Steering Committee?
The Steering Committee’s primary purpose is to support the project, advise, consult, and decide on raised issues.
Plus, SteerCo should align the project’s objectives to broader business goals. Eventually, hold the project team accountable for agreed deliverables and scope items.
The committee will also assess progress, goals, and deadlines, address significant issues with project constraints: scope, budget, time, quality, resources, risks, and help resolve cross-department or companies’ conflicts.
In an ideal scenario, the group should only concentrate on project success and less so on organisations’ goals, at least in the meeting. Nothing is that simplistic in life, and SteerCo always balances specific project goals to the broader organisation. The thing is that the project team should always align project goals, to some extent, with business objectives. Thus, it is usually not a big issue if the group talks a bit more about the company.
Worth noting that the group would not engage in project execution, though. The implementation is the project manager’s and team’s responsibility.
How Six Constraints Relevant In SteerCo?
All projects have six main constraints:
If you would like to learn more about project constraints, check out my post on the subject: WHAT ARE PROJECT CONSTRAINTS?
Project manager shares major concerns with either of these constraints in the Steering Committee. The group would elaborate on the issues and develop an acceptable solution for the business and project.
For example, the new software spending is above the project’s budget, but the company needs it to be competitive in the market. So, CFO or COO may find additional funding by re-shuffling resources.
Can Steering Committee Influence Project Direction?
Sometimes, it is not enough to just reallocate resources. The group may decide to pivot the project to new goals or deliverables. Suppose, after a while, the project has more information on the current business situation.
The company was planning to build an e-scooter, but an e-bike is a more suitable product to release in the market after some investigation. The project goal and business objective may have been to introduce an electric travel vehicle. So, the purpose did not change, but the deliverable did. For that kind of decision, you will need SteerCo’s approvals.
How Can SteerCo Help A Project With Prioritisation?
If there are conflicting priorities and insufficient resources to complete all the work, the Steering Committee may clarify the most important items to tackle. Prioritisation links with our next element.
How Can SteerCo Help A Project With Solving Conflicts?
Projects almost always have cross-department engagements but not necessarily the right level of influence. Thus, when you have occasional conflicts between these departments’ managers or with the project, the team may not adequately address them.
Steering Group has senior managers who have enough power to solve these issues. From experience, these conflicts mostly happen due to resources issue or priority call. The senior stakeholder can clarify the vital aspects of the business and eliminate any disagreements.
What Is Steering Committee Role Of Monitoring A Project?
Finally, the Steering Committee would evaluate the overall quality and health of the project at every meeting. If some issues or areas need improvement, senior stakeholders could raise them with the project manager to address them.
Who Are The People In The Steering Committee?
The Room Where It Happened
Like with anything in life as well as projects, it matters who makes the input. Hence, you need the right people in the room to succeed in your endeavour. Of course, you require experienced leaders, subject matter experts (SMEs), representatives of clients and suppliers, but is it enough?
Why Members’ Interests Are Important In SteerCo?
Usually, members of the committee are selected based on the areas they represent. The goal is to establish a balanced group based on the project scope and departments involved. Sounds sensible enough?
Well, there is one “but”. We also need to pay attention to members’ interests. Are they here to help the project to succeed, which they should? Or are they here to push their agenda due to the department or personal interest?
For example, the project is considering outsourcing the IT help desk to a different country. It might be dangerous to include an IT help desk manager in the Steering Committee as he/she may not appreciate a cost-saving argument for business.
Why Do We Need Independent Members In SteerCo?
Furthermore, the committee may benefit from having a few independent stakeholders who hold senior positions. Those individuals should be capable of challenging the biases in the group. Therefore, mitigating the risk that few self-serving interests drive decision in the meeting.
Why Should We Consider To Have A Moderator In SteerCo?
Suppose there is just too much politics, members cannot have a constructive discussion, and the meeting is highly politicly charged. In that case, we could consider having a professional moderator or facilitator. The person should be capable of managing senior people in businesses.
Would You Have A Project Manager In SteerCo?
You would also have a project manager who presents the facts, situation and answer questions. They will not make any decisions but will record them as well as actions. There could also be people from the project team, supporting a project manager in the meeting.
Round-Up: Who Is In The SteerCo Room?
Ultimately, we want people in the group who care for the project and broader organisation interests. Have the authority to decide on behalf of the area that they represent. Plus, some of the members of the group need to have direct control over the project.
How Many People Should Be In The Steering Committee?
As you might have guessed, there is no straight answer. Usually, the advice is to have from 4-7 people. I have been in Steering Committees on either side of these numbers.
The key is to have full representation from involved parties in the project; otherwise, you do not have a forum. Thus, if the project is smaller, you will have fewer people than when the project is more considerable.
How To Make Decision On The SteerCo Size?
There is one more consideration to make when deciding on the group size.
On the one hand, if you have a smaller team with only senior managers, they may have excellent decision power but fewer insights on details. Thus, decisions may have difficulties to be implemented on the broader organisation.
On the other hand, if you have a larger group, you may have more information you need, but it may be more challenging to manage meetings and make decisions and agreements. Plus, it is harder to book sessions.
In short, you need to find the balance between enough information, decision power and think about what is sensible for any given project.
What Are The Main Challenges With Steering Committee?
In the post, we already saw some hints to potential challenges in the Steering Committee. Let’s explore these a bit more as we would love to have a productive group.
How Various Levels Of Stakeholders Impact SteerCo?
It is vital to have various types of experiences in the group, from senior management to specialists. A Steering Committee can consider multiple views and interests in the organisation that can apply to the project through the whole lifecycle. Additionally, if a project needs some help from a particular department and the manager is in the group, you will likely get support.
Unfortunately, there is a negative side to all of this, as well. Various levels of seniority mean that senior management will make all decisions. Although lower-level managers and specialists may still present their views, the Steering Committee may still not consider these.
Why Dependency On SteerCo Delays Project Deliverables?
The project could become overly dependent on the Steering Committee to make all decisions, creating too many meetings and potentially impacting the project’s deliveries.
As we discussed previously, the group often will consider some of the project’s six constraints, depending on which one needs attention. Suppose the forum considers human resources constrain. However, if managers are in the meeting instead of making resources available in their daily work, the session will not solve the problem even with the best intentions.
Furthermore, the project becomes overly dependent on the Steering Committee decisions to move forward. One reason could be that senior stakeholders did not grant enough authority to a project manager initially. We will discuss a solution to this problem later in the post.
Why Should You Watch Out For Hidden People’s Agenda In SteerCo?
Some participants may have hidden agendas, which may not align with the project’s goals. These individuals may be trying to alter the scope by sneaking in some new requirement in every meeting.
Thus, you can end up with a massive “scope-creep” and ever-extending project timelines. A Steering Committee should have clear guidelines indicating a maximum number of scope changes allowed before a new project is required.
Why Should You Help New Members To Catch Up In SteerCo?
It may be that for some people, this is their first rodeo in the SteerCo. It could be helpful if some senior members could advise these individuals on the group’s primary purpose, i.e. help the project succeed.
By helping these individuals catch up with the purpose of the SteerCo, you ensure that they can start to contribute to the project sooner rather than later.
Why Should You Consider Group Thinking In SteerCo?
Suppose you have ten individuals in the group; some of them are senior managers. These individuals had to survive complex office politics to achieve current positions; you can bet they have strong personalities. Furthermore, they will be first to express their views.
Guess what?! More often than not, most other people will start agreeing with them and will never express their idea. It takes guts to disagree with your boss. In some companies’ cultures, it will not even be acceptable. Yet, one that will suffer is the project’s outcome, especially if harsh reality needs to be considered as bosses may not see the whole picture or will not know details on the ground.
In a perfect world, people should disagree as much as it is sensible in the meeting. There is nothing personal here, just making sure that all views are heard and discussed for the sake of the project and business success. Still, when the group reaches a decision, everyone should stand behind it and ensure actions are executed.
“Innovators Method: Bringing the Lean Start-up into Your Organisation” by Nathan Furr and Jeff Dyer. The book explains well why we should be adequately debating in the meeting, particularly in the innovation process. However, these ideas fit well in a SteerCo as well.
The book also has some good examples of how to approach sharing your vision in high stake meetings. If you do not have Audible yet, you can listen to one book for free by going with the link below.
10 Tips: How To Create A Useful Steering Committee?
There are several items to consider while building a Steering Committee. Below you will find my top 10 tips.
1. Take Care When Considering People In SteerCo
We want the right people on the bus, which is the most crucial tip. People are critical to project success, as we discussed previously. We want the group to contain individuals who represent relevant departments and work well together.
We want the team to be large enough to employ experiences and expertise but small enough to make decisions. Thus, we should take great care in selecting the right stakeholders.
2. Inform New Members To SteerCo About The Project
If individuals have their first meeting, you should help them understand a bit more about the project beforehand.
The project team should share the plan, objectives, description and scope. Plus, we should include any other information that helps to explain the context or current business situation.
If you would like to learn more about the current business situation, check out my blog post on SWAT analysis, which contains 4 other great strategic decision tools.
3. Set Clear Rules And Goals For The SteerCo Meeting
All committee members should be aware of the rules, standards and goals in SteerCo. In particular, we need to be extra clear that they are here to help the project.
The project also needs to adhere to specific business constraints, like budget, scope, timelines, quality, and resources. All members of the group should be aware of what are the particular constraints for a given project.
4. No More Monthly Meetings!
Probably, one of the more controversial tips on the list. Typically, the Steering Committee is meeting on a monthly bases to make decisions and deliberations.
However, it could be a waste of time if there is nothing import to discuss. Then a project manager needs to become creative and ends up updating on trivial items. The reality is that changes take time, and one month might not be enough to have something substantial, which brings us to a linked consideration.
The Steering Committee should empower a project manager to make some decisions withing tolerance on project matters. Of course, these should be very clear and documented.
Thus, the project would not need to book a meeting every month if the change to the project’s constraints, like scope or budget, is small.
5. The Steering Committee Should Make Clear Decisions
I am sure you have been in the meeting where there was a long discussion, and a senior manager makes a comment that looks like a decision, but nobody is entirely sure.
A proper decision should have particular qualities specified so everyone is on the same page.
- We need somebody to be accountable for a decision.
- There must be an exact deadline when action related to a decision need to be carried out.
- There might be people who are not in the meeting but are affected by the decision, and the project should inform them and look for their support.
- There could be few essential stakeholders who need to be aware of the decision even if they are not directly affected.
When the decision has these qualities, the owner is very clear about what to do next, and you can be sure an individual will take actions.
6. Show Instead Of Telling When Communicating In SteerCo
It is good to show slides or text on the screen when updating the group members on project progress or solution.
Yet, if you have something tangible to show, you should, as it will be even better. It will be more powerful, memorable, and the message will land much better.
7. Steering Committee Should Govern The Project
A Steering Committee is one of the governing bodies within the project structure. As such, we need it actually to govern. Thus, we need it to:
- Provide authority to the project manager to take action and use company resources to execute the project.
- Approve business case, project plan, approach and the methodology, i.e. Waterfall, Agile or something else.
- The project should know clear risk boundaries defined by the group and the company’s policies.
- Oversee several elements of the project, like the stakeholder management plan or quality assurance.
- Resolve cross-department conflicts, issues related to cost, time, risk, resources, quality and scope.
- Monitor project progress against agreed targets and address problems that do not allow the project to progress on time.
8. Provide SteerCo Agenda And Plan Meetings Upfront
We need a definite agenda, which highlights all the decisions to consider in the meeting. We should prepare one at least a few days before. Thus, allowing stakeholders to review and prepare questions. More about the meeting’s structure below.
However, we also need to plan our meetings ahead of time. We may not have monthly sessions; yet, we still need to have a schedule aligned to the significant project’s milestones, where the Steering Committee needs to make important decisions.
9. Define Project Success In A Steering Committee
Probably one of the most critical tips on the list. Success is a bit of a subjective concept. Is it X amount of profits or X amount of projects completed? Maybe it is the customer satisfaction rating?
Therefore, we must agree on success with senior managers in the Steering Committee. There are three angles we can use to define success, and the group should use all three.
- Project delivery: Did we finish the project on time and within budget?
- Product or service: Did we achieve a 50% increase in customers using the app?
- Business Value: What is the overall business gain, like brand awareness, extra revenues or cross-selling opportunities?
10. Manage Decisions And Actions In SteerCo
The project team should record all decisions and actions in meeting minutes and distribute them to members after the meeting.
Allow three days to make comments, otherwise assume that actions and people responsible for them accept. Current actions should be reviewed and updated in the next Steering Committee as well.
What Needs To Happen Before Each SteerCo?
First, you need to book one. Sounds simple enough, but it comes back to scheduling one when a project requires it. That is the first decision relating to the session.
Then, the week before the meeting, the project manager will distribute a meeting document (likely PowerPoint presentation). Thus, there will be enough time to prepare questions. The document will include items like:
- An agenda with an exact meeting’s timeline
- Minutes as well as decisions & actions from the previous session
- A project status report, which is comparing project progress against the plan, identifying successes and critical issues & risks
- There might be specific decisions for the session that need additional documentation before the meeting.
How To Run A Steering Committee?
Typically, the project manager chairs the meeting. It could also be a sponsor. The goal is to go through all the items on the agenda.
Discuss Actions From The Previous SteerCo
On the agenda, one of the critical items are actions from the previous meeting. There should be some progress on these. The project manager should update the group on the latest situation and allow them to discuss it.
What Does Project Status Update Mean?
Second, in the row of importance, is a status report. The project manager provides an evaluation against various project success criteria, like milestones, budget or resources:
- The project is doing great – Green.
- There are some risks or minor issues to address – Amber.
- Or everything is just going wrong, stop and review – Red.
If you highlighted something in amber or red, you would want to prepare an explanation and high-level steps to come back to green.
What Is Part Of The Discussion In SteerCo?
The discussion part of the meeting usually involves discussing items that need immediate attention and recommendations or decisions. You should generally expect to discuss the following items:
- Completion status
- Staffing & other resources
- Substantial project changes
- Any required decisions
- Any concerns by the team or suggested recommendations.
A Steering Committee’s Any Other Business (AOB)
Then you go into any other business to cover those items that require decision but are very recent. If they are not new, they should have been on the main agenda, and you should not have any other business.
Appendix In SteerCo Presentation
Finally, you may have an appendix to provide detail information on various items discussed in the meeting. Usually, you would not have time to go through these in the forum. However, stakeholders still can review these offline.
What Happens After Each Steering Committee?
No later than a week after a meeting, the project manager should send out minutes, including actions with assigned owners and decisions. There are two reasons below.
1. SteerCo Minutes Summary Helps To Coordinate Actions
First, members with assigned actions can start implementing these without delay. The project manager should clearly define actions with assigned owners and the expected timeline. The next SteerCo, the owner, will update on the progress.
2. Additional SteerCo Comments Clarify Situation
Second, while it is fresh in everyone’s head, it allows members to clarify any points that are not clear or need adjustments.
Maybe there have been specific implied actions by senior managers that participants or stakeholders did not fully understand. Plus, there might have been overlooked comments.
Allow at least three days for feedback to come in. If there is none, then you can assume everyone accepts minutes.
What To Do With Additional SteerCo Documents?
If there were any additional documents in the meeting, then these should be distributed as well. Plus, the communication should include an exact date for the next meeting.
A Steering Committee Conclusion
A Steering Committee could be a powerful tool in the project management arsenal. Yet, we need to have quite a few things, which we discussed in the post, to have an effective group.
For example, you will need to have the right people whose interests aligned with the project on top of having a collaborative environment, which will not be easy.
Hopefully, with provided guidelines and suggestions, you will set up a great Steering Committee that will considerably contribute to project success regardless of your organisation’s size.
The main takeaway from the post is that a Steering Committee removes obstacles and gives the project resources to succeed. Plus, it makes sure that an organisation is taking actions to provide the necessary support and environment. Remember, all those managers participating in the forum will be well aware of a project’s progress, and business will be ready when deliverables come in.
Let me know in the comments below what do you think is the most critical quality of the Steering Committee.
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