Seeing a project from its conception to completion can be a challenging task. Active project management normally requires input from different factions and committees. One of these is the steering committee.
This article takes an in-depth look at what a steering committee is, its purpose in project management, why it is essential to have one, different challenges, and best practices.
What Is a Steering Committee?
A steering committee is an advisory body made up of senior stakeholders and experts. The committee offers guidance on several issues that a project or a company may or is already encountering. These include budgets, company policies, marketing strategies, and overall management.
Due to the steering committee’s nature, its members have a significant say in how projects are managed. The committee is mainly concerned with the direction, scope, timelines, budget, and methods used to realize a given project.
Who Forms Part of The Steering Committee?
In case you are wondering if any regular employee in the organization can have a seat in the steering committee, the answer is no. these committees are strictly made up of members with significant influence in the organization or a given project such as senior executives and essential stakeholders.
For example, when working on a project, the committee will consist of s project manager, an important external stakeholder from the customers, and experts. The steering committee will consist of the top executives, given board members, and department heads for an organization.
Keep in mind that the composition of any steering committee can vary from organization to organization. However, several guidelines must be adhered to. At the top is a chairperson who heads the committee.
He/ she is selected by the other members and does not own the project. The chairperson should work together with the other committee members, giving room for impartiality. Also, while coming up with a steering committee, keep in mind that it should accommodate diverse membership.
The members must represent the different functions the committee oversees to enhance sharing of ideas and opinions. Diverse membership also creates room for more open discussions. It is also important to note that the stakeholder’s primary role is to ensure that the projects align with the business objectives.
What is the Role of a Steering Committee?
Like we mentioned, a steering committee is an advisory group made up of different stakeholders and company executives. They help come up with decisions on various projects, with its members directly working with project managers.
Other functions are:
A steering committee acts as an advocate for the different initiatives and projects across the organization. Keep in mind that it is usually made up of top management and experts.
- Setting strategies and goals.
Steering committees come up with strategic directions for projects. They also advise and offer input on related subjects such as budgeting, assets, money, time, facilities, marketing, and hiring. Part of their job includes establishing goals and project scope.
- Coming up with ways of measuring success
There are different parameters of measuring success. The steering committee is charged with determining how the success of a given product is measured.
The steering committee may be an advisory body, but it is also tasked with monitoring duties. It ensures that projects meet the desired quality and monitor any adjustment that may have been decided. It also monitors the project processes and plans, which is crucial for project success.
The committee also identifies and monitors project or business risks before coming up with ways of eliminating them.
- Offering expert opinion
The steering committee comprises experts who offer expert opinions on different concerns related to projects or the entire business. Their input is usually essential, especially when working on a relatively complicated project.
- Conflict resolution
Disagreements are common, especially when working on a given project. To ensure that these do not interfere with the entire project, these committees resolve a conflict between parties, which creates more time to focus n what’s best.
One of the roles of any advisory body is to find ways of dealing with a problem the organization may be facing. Thanks to the experts who sit in the strategic committee, it can develop different problem-solving ideas.
- Decision making
Even though most of the steering committee’s roles revolve around offering advice, it also takes part in decision making. With the members’ input, it can assess, approve or reject project plans or proposed changes to the given plans.
The committee also takes part in role allocation as the members have the powers to select project managers and other experts to fulfill given projects.
It is clear from these roles that the steering committee acts as an advisory and management body simultaneously. They not only identify issues but also come up with solutions.
Why Does an Organization Need an Effective Steering Committee?
The truth is, not every project needs the services or management of a steering committee. However, if a project involves lots of cross-departmental interaction and stakeholders’ involvement, a steering committee may come in handy.
One of the main functions of every steering committee is to resolve conflicts that may arise between departments and stakeholders. Also, having a steering community in a project that involves lots of cross-departmental interaction ensures that no voice goes unheard.
An effective steering committee also keeps the team in the right frame to ace the projects, stay on budget, and analyze the different changes to the original scope. A steering committee can either foster success or make a project fail, which is why having an effective one is essential.
How to Create a Good Steering Committee
Now that we understand just how vital a steering committee is, it’s high time we understand how to create an effective one. Leaders should know how to make informed decisions on putting up a good committee for efficient project steering.
Here are some of the guides for setting up a good steering committee:
- Picking the right people
The first step in coming up with an influential steering committee is to know who to allocate a seat. Whoever is coming up with the team should consider a number of things when selecting the right individuals.
First, the person’s personality matters a lot. He/ she should work in a team, now that steering committees are made up of different individuals. Second, one needs to consider organizational representation.
While working on a large project, several departments should be represented by somebody with good decision-making capability.
Communication is an essential tool in management. If you aim to create an effective steering committee, ensure that everyone is on the same page regarding the plan, description, purpose, and current scope.
Understandably, people will have different experiences given the nature of these committees. However, they should always know what is happening at any given time pertaining to the project or organization.
Also, communication and debriefing should be a necessity. The best way to go about this is to develop a way through which committee members can communicate between themselves and with the project manager.
Plans should also be put in place for different teams to meet with the steering committee to answer specific questions and update progress. If possible, leaders can use the company intranet to offer progress updates.
Once the project is complete, leaders should organize a debrief with the committee members to clearly understand the process and understand any problem that may have occurred.
- Setting straightforward goals and rules.
Goals and rules are the tools that steering committee members rely on to deliver effectively. Leaders must therefore ensure that there are clear rules and goals. They should ask and answer questions regarding the budget, timely changes, deadlines, and any other ideas that can be implemented before coming up with a conclusive plan.
- Regular meetings
For an effective steering committee, follow-up meetings are necessary. However, they should not be too frequent, or else the team will not be efficient. People responsible for the steering committee should only organize meetings when necessary.
Some of the agendas may be discussing budget and scope changes. Only the essential things require the attention of steering committee members. Alternatively, leaders can organize benchmark meetings as the meeting progresses in case there are no frequent changes.
Every meeting should be purposeful to save everyone’s time.
Best Practices for Developing a Steering Committee
Creating an effective and efficient steering committee to help project teams achieve success requires lots of effort. Here are some useful tips that may work:
- Offering training and coaching
Not every member in the steering committee may be capable of the same level of service. Some may be new to the processes and therefore have a hard time maneuvering around. The best way of helping them is through offering training and coaching.
Experience plays a huge role in productivity. To ensure that committee members will give their all, leaders should offer quality education that encompasses both the new and experienced committee members.
There are different ways of doing this. However, leaders should ensure that the method used works for all the team members.
- Making the team manageable
A steering committee team should be manageable, and the best way of achieving that is by having the right number of people. Leaders should ensure that the steering committee teams are neither small nor big. Having the correct number on any team makes management more effortless.
If possible, the team should consist of under ten people. All in all, the size should represent all, if not most, of the departments. The composition should not also be too big to hinder efficiency. Managing several people may be quite cumbersome.
- Offer agenda before meetings.
Developing an influential steering committee involves taking charge of meetings. Revealing the meeting agenda to committee members beforehand speeds up proceedings, leading to a high-efficiency level. Nobody wants to walk into a meeting room with no clue whatsoever as it causes uncertainty and confusion, which will eat into the meeting time.
Any agenda concerning project information should be given before given to the committee before they meet. It allows members to come up with questions before the meeting occurs, saving time and creating room for more critical issues.
- Fast decision-making
One of the best practices for developing an effective project team is promoting fast decision-making. One of the reasons why projects lag is the time taken to arrive at decisions. Whereas one may argue that taking more time enhances informed decision-making, it becomes troublesome when a group is involved.
On most occasions, decisions that would take a maximum of twenty-four hours take a week, especially if no defined parameter for decision-making length is set. In case any member feels that the leaders are rushing the decision-making process, they should be made to understand that the overall purpose is to drive efficiency so that all the deadlines are met.
Fast decision-making allows the team members to clear their schedules and focus on other things regarding the project.
- Using the project manager as a link between the committee and the project teams
One of the best but rarely used practices for developing an effective steering committee is to use the project manager to reach the team. The project manager should act as a bridge between those responsible for executing team projects and the steering committee.
Scheduling meetings with project teams may take long, time that would be saved by having the project manager on the team. This practice also helps avoid confusion as all concerns and questions are communicated to the project manager to facilitate communication to the team members.
Project managers have everything to gain if they properly use the steering committees. All decisions made should be towards promotion efficiency and the best environment for success.
Challenges Faced in Establishing a Steering Committee
Steering committees play an essential role in project management. Therefore, they should be formulated well. However, specific problems may accrue in their formation that a leader should always be aware of. Let’s take a look:
- Differing interests and personalities
Steering committees bring together different managers at various levels in the organization. This has a positive and negative side to it. Bringing together different people ensures that many voices and interests are heard and taken care of. It also allows for teamwork.
On the dark side, it may create personality conflicts that may act as hindrances. Those in senior leadership are generally inclined to take more active decision-making roles over the mid-level managers, which may cause a problem.
The resultant effect is conflicts and competing interests, which may stand in the way of project success.
- Too many meetings
Steering committees have to organize occasional meetings to decide on several things, such as the project budgets, scopes, changes, and various issues. Whereas this is expected, it may eat into the time meant for doing the actual project.
Too many decision-making meetings mean that teams are put on hold before any communication flows from the steering committee members. This may even push the project way past the deadline, which should not be the case.
- Need for bargaining
This point is closely connected to the first one. Several members of the steering committee may be only concerned about their interests, which may necessitate bargaining. Leaders must, therefore, set parameters regarding the time needed to analyze the projects and any requirements or specifications that may have to be added.
Some of these must be clearly communicated from the onset.
- It can be quite challenging to define roles.
Higher chances are that it may not be everyone’s first time to be on a steering committee. Most members will therefore have an idea of how the committee works. However, do not expect that everyone will be conversant with the current below.
Having an inexperienced team may be quite challenging. Therefore, whoever is responsible for putting together the team needs to clearly define every member of the steering committee’s role, which may be difficult if the team is huge.
Also, defining roles without knowing the strength of the team members can be difficult.
- Difficulty in arriving at solutions
Project teams are normally made up of managers from different departments and organizational levels. Bringing them together may push one person or a small faction to take the lead based on their organization levels, without necessarily consulting with other members.
Such people may either prefer holding strong opinions or acting in their interests, making opposers have a hard time. Remember, all committee members should voice their views regarding the project scope and direction effortlessly.
Steering committees play a very important role in proper project management. They increase value by keeping the projects on track, mitigating risks, and solving conflicts. It is wise to consider the overall composition when coming up with one.
This article should guide you on how to create a good steering committee for your projects or organization. Also, remember that these committees require the input of every member. Therefore, whether most of the members occupy higher offices, everybody’s voice should be heard and considered in decision making.