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for a single project, or set of projects. As such, steering committees can be of great help to any overworked project manager, providing tangible evidence of management support, as well as much needed guidance through problems and sensitive political issues. But, if improperly organized, steering committees can create more problems than they solve...
Steering committees can become excessively bureaucratic, taking valuable time away from productive project activities. Steering committees can micro-manage, stepping on the authority of the project manager, causing that individual to lose valuable credibility and influence. Steering committees may be more focused on politics than projects, and as such, may fail to support the project manager who has made unpopular, but necessary, project decisions.
To avoid these pitfalls, project steering committees should be organized and staffed according to specific business needs and project requirements. Do you need a steering committee?.... The Decision Factors: Project Duration Project Complexity Project Visibility Project Reach Project Risk Project Costs Outsourcing Involvement Steering Committee Value 1 month or less Low Low Single Unit or Operation Low Low None Not Necessary 2 - 5 months Moderate Moderate Multiple Units or Operations Medium Medium A portion of the project A Good Idea 6 months + High High Extensive Organizational Impact High High The entire project A Must
Considering these decision factors, it is likely that steering committee oversight will be worthwhile and absolutely necessary, for lengthy, complex projects, that are highly visible, risky and costly, impacting multiple business units and operations. However, considering the impact that any technology project can have upon a business, it is wise to consider steering committee value for all projects in a practical light ,,,, will it help get the project done on time, on budget and as required?
Steering Committee Structures, Roles & Responsibilities: Depending on organizational issues and project requirements, steering committees can be created to oversee individual projects, groups of projects, or some combination thereof. Whether a steering committee is assigned to one or more projects, committee structures, roles and responsibilities should be clearly defined. In all likelihood, you will face the following questions as you set up your steering committee:
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What is the optimum size for the committee? Who should be involved? What is the committee's mission, role and level of authority over the project manager and his/her team? Will the committee oversee one project or multiple projects? Will participants be assigned for the duration of a single project, or rotated to allow for multiple perspectives and views? Who will chair the committee? Will all participants have an equal vote in decisions? Will there be non-voting members?
Guidelines: In order to ensure that any steering committee is structured to facilitate and enhance project completion, a few practical guidelines can be followed:
The size of the committee should be kept as small as possible, minimizing politics and making it is easier to get things done. Participants should have sufficient knowledge, interest and expertise to contribute to the project oversight process. Participants should have a stake in the outcome of the project. All key project and business functions should be represented as needed to support the project or group of projects. Once assigned, all committee members should be required to attend all meetings and participate as needed.
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In addition, to avoid political problems and micro-management difficulties, steering committee roles and responsibilities should be clearly defined and communicated. The primary function of the steering committee is to guide the project, not to manage the project. Steering committee members should take a "hands-off" approach to the project, providing strategic direction, but trusting the project manager and the team to do its job. To that end, steering committees should be structured to perform the following functions:
To provide strategic oversight for the project or for multiple projects. To maintain project focus and direction, ensuring that the project stays on track, according to defined goals, requirements and deliverables.
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To resolve conflicts and make decisions regarding changes to project scope and deliverables. To provide management support, direction and advice to the project manager and the project management team. To monitor project progress and respond to problems as needed on a management level. To ensure that projects are in alignment with changing business circumstances and objectives ... providing a global perspective that may not otherwise be available to an individual project team.
Working with a Steering Committee: As a busy project manager, it may seem that the steering committee exists solely to oversee your work. But, in reality, you also have a responsibility to yourself, and your team, to ensure that the steering committee is ready and able to serve your needs. To that end, you should:
Create a steering committee mission statement to clearly establish and communicate the goals, structure and authority of the committee. Establish procedures and activities to ensure effective steering committee participation, and to keep the members properly informed..... -Hold regularly scheduled committee meetings. -Produce regular status & issue reports. -Establish emergency issue escalation procedures.
Try to cultivate and maintain positive working relationships with as many steering committee members as possible. Be honest about project status, ask for help whenever needed, and try to keep the committee "on your side".