The Project Board, or Steering Committee (the SteerCom), is a fundamental component of your project and can make or break it as easily as subject matter experts.

Brendan is a senior consultant with IMA specialising in major projects, PMO’s, and project portfolio management. He has led initiatives for over ten years, working in the corporate, government and education sectors, and in the UK, Canada, the US, and Australia. He holds an MBA from AGSM, UNSW. An ardent admirer of history, he also enjoys leading friends and colleagues into the wilderness on foot, horseback, and by boat. He has served as a volunteer search and rescue officer and museum guide.

Brendan is a senior consultant with IMA specialising in major projects, PMO’s, and project portfolio management. He has led initiatives for over ten years, working in the corporate, government and education sectors, and in the UK, Canada, the US, and Australia. He holds an MBA from AGSM, UNSW. An ardent admirer of history, he also enjoys leading friends and colleagues into the wilderness on foot, horseback, and by boat. He has served as a volunteer search and rescue officer and museum guide.

Last time we looked at how you as a project sponsor or programme/project manager (PM) build and run a steering committee that is going to represent all stakeholders interests fairly, stay focused on agreed outcomes, support and guide the project, and actively intervene when required without undermining the project manager.

We covered:

1. Size and Composition – listen to all voices without death by committee

2. Authority – who has it?

3. Active Attendance and involvement

Today we’ll look at:

4.     Enabling Informed Decisions

5.     Frequency of Meetings and Reports – timely decisions without wasting time

6.     The right level of information – to see the trees and the forest!

7.     Multi-organisation projects

8.     For the record

4. Enabling Informed Decisions

The challenge:

SteerComs are often asked to make complex decisions that will affect the future of an organisation for years to come, such as when a policy gap is identified. It is essential that they are given the opportunity to make informed decisions, particularly when accepting risks or committing resources to address them.

The solution:

Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) must not push their own agenda when writing recommendations. On one project the entire direction was set based on advice from a very senior SME (the General Counsel) that was later shown to be an oversimplification when they moved on. The advice was well intentioned and the SteerCom may have chosen that approach, however it is not appropriate for any SME, or the PM, to deprive the SteerCom of the opportunity to make their own decision with full information of alternatives.

Also, when asking the SteerCom to make a decision on a complex issue it is only reasonable to provide information in advance, or if this is not possible, to present it and agree on a date by which a decision will be made – often at the next meeting. They may need time to read and reflect on longer documents, or to make their own enquiries.

Finally the project manager should speak to members individually in advance for particularly complex or contentious issues – this enables members to understand the implications of the decision and contribute to the content of written recommendations.

 5.     Frequency of Meetings and Reports – timely decisions without wasting time

The challenge:

Your meetings may occur only monthly as you struggle to obtain access to time-poor senior managers, or because a report that may take 30 minutes to discuss can take a day or more to prepare, particularly if it summarises a programme of work.

Alternately they may occur every week because your project requires frequent timely decisions on key issues to progress,

The solution:

When there are many unknowns, high risks, frequent sensitive decisions, and diverse stakeholders I suggest weekly meetings, provided an administrative resource can reduce the reporting workload. For simpler projects requiring only gateway decisions and moderate oversight you can get away with monthly meetings. Although even then it may be worth sending fortnightly reports and catching up with members over a coffee.

I also find that making the report and meeting agenda the same document saves time and streamlines documentation.

6.     The right level of information – to see the trees and the forest!

Documentation and reports are a ball game in themselves so I’ll only touch them lightly here. Generating reports is time consuming and the frustration from stream leaders and the PM can be “I can either write reports telling you what I should be doing, or I can actually get on with it”.

Don’t get bogged down in every schedule item or item of expenditure –for example you could instead determine meaningful schedule milestones against which to report and show where they stand, why, and what intervention if any is required by the SteerCom.

On budget focus on items that are meaningful to the SteerCom – capital expenditure is a given but there is no point spending a great deal of time tracking internal labour use if the organisation does not value that information.

I find it useful to mark agenda items as “Visibility” or “Action Required” so that a SteerCom can see which items are included to keep them informed and which require a decision or some old fashioned kick-ass.

7.     Multi-organisation projects

The challenge:

Almost all major projects will involve more than one organisation. This may be to scale resources for fluctuating workloads and outsource highly specialised work.  It may be because supply chain integration requires partner businesses to upgrade their technology together to share order and inventory management.

When they are involved vendors function as Senior Suppliers, and Customers as Senior Users

On one hand partners often contribute key expertise and a significant proportion of labour so excluding them from important decisions and from insight into the state of the project can impede their ability to deliver.

On the other hand the SteerCom often discusses commercially sensitive information including finances and internal performance issues or organisational weaknesses that it is not necessary or appropriate for partners to be aware of.

The solution:

I have found a two part meeting agenda effective, covering partner related items first and sensitive items second. Do ensure that you send a modified version of the meeting invitation, agenda and the subsequent minutes to your vendor(s), or customer(s).

 8.     For the record

Finally, to avoid forgetting important actions and decisions and the reasons behind them, always send minutes with clearly assigned and time constrained action items to participants as soon as possible after the meeting. 

What lessons have you learnt regarding Steering Committees that may benefit other readers?