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The Steering Committee: Guiding Projects to Success.

IPMA South Africa, The Steering Committee: Guiding Projects to Success

In the dynamic world of project management, the role of a steering committee is both crucial and multifaceted. A steering committee provides strategic oversight, guidance, and support for projects, ensuring they stay on course and achieve their objectives. This blog delves into the essential functions of a steering committee, explores its structure, and offers practical advice for running successful meetings and ensuring the committee's effectiveness.


What is a Steering Committee?


A steering committee is a group of high-level individuals brought together to offer objective guidance on major project decisions that go beyond the scope of the project team’s day-to-day tasks. While project teams are focused on the specific details of project execution, the steering committee oversees the broader strategic aspects of the project. They ensure that projects align with organisational goals, manage conflicts, and resolve issues that the project team cannot address alone.

Ultimately, the most important task of the steering group is to solve problems that the project manager or the team have been unable to resolve. The role of the steering group is not to intervene in or influence the operational aspects of the project, as these decisions should and must be made within the framework of the project team. In other words, the steering group is in the end a "tool" for the project manager and the implementation team to ensure that the project is carried out as planned.

The Roles of a Steering Committee

A steering committee’s responsibilities can be broken down into two primary categories: project-level and organisational-level roles.


Project-Level Roles

At the project level, the steering committee:


  • Provides Advice: Offers strategic guidance and expert opinions on major project decisions.

  • Ensures Project Outputs: Oversees the delivery of project deliverables and ensures that the project achieves its intended outcomes.

  • Monitors Progress: Reviews project milestones and KPIs to ensure the project remains on track.

  • Resolves Issues: Acts as a higher authority to resolve conflicts and obstacles that the project team cannot overcome.


Organisational-Level Roles

At the organisational level, the steering committee:


  • Sets Strategic Direction: Defines the project's scope, budget, and timeline, and ensures alignment with broader organisational goals.

  • Coordinates Inter-Unit Communication: Facilitates communication between different units and stakeholders, including senior leadership and investors.

  • Allocates Resources: Approves the initial budget and manages funding requests for additional resources.

  • Sets Policies: Establishes policies for project execution and adjusts these as necessary.

  • Advocates for Projects: Promotes the project’s importance within the organisation and garners support for its success.

Who Makes Up a Steering Committee?

The composition of a steering committee is designed to bring together a diverse range of perspectives and expertise. Typical members include:


  • Board Officers: Senior executives who supervise and provide strategic direction for the organisation.

  • Senior Stakeholders: Key decision-makers such as sponsors and clients in senior management roles.

  • Experts: Individuals with high-level knowledge in specific fields relevant to the project.

  • Executives: Leaders responsible for overall organisational management.

  • Department Employees: Representatives from departments directly involved in the project.

  • Client Representatives: Individuals managing the project on behalf of the client.

  • Head of Integration: An executive responsible for coordinating systems and processes within the organisation.

  • Acquisition Executives: Leaders overseeing acquisitions and ensuring alignment with strategic goals.

  • Corporate Development Leads: Experts in mergers, acquisitions, and capital raising.

How to Run an Effective Steering Committee


Running an effective steering committee involves several key practices:


  1. Optimal Size: Aim for a committee size that is large enough to represent diverse views but not so large that it hampers decision-making. Ideally, a steering committee should have around six members.

  2. Active Participation: Ensure that the committee members are not merely passive observers. They should actively contribute to discussions and decision-making processes.

  3. Manage Resistance: Address resistance to change by listening to dissenting opinions, which can help build commitment and confidence in the project.

  4. Diverse Representation: Include members from various managerial levels and departments to ensure a range of perspectives and interests are considered.

  5. Clear Roles and Goals: Define each member’s role clearly and set specific goals for the committee’s work.

  6. Effective Communication: Establish robust channels for communication and debriefing to keep everyone informed and engaged.

  7. Regular Meetings: Schedule meetings every six to eight weeks or at key project phases to review progress, address issues, and make decisions.


Running a Steering Committee Meeting

A steering committee meeting is a platform for discussing project progress, making strategic decisions, and resolving issues. Here’s how to run an effective meeting:


  • Preparation: Prepare a slide deck covering project progress, cost updates, achievements, current tasks, and any issues needing discussion. Send this to members in advance.

  • Meeting Structure: Start with introductions, present updates, answer questions, and make decisions. Ensure the meeting ends on a positive note, regardless of conflicts.

  • Follow-Up: After the meeting, thank participants and summarise decisions and actions.


What Makes Steering Committees Successful?

Several factors contribute to a successful steering committee:


  1. Collaboration and Communication: Foster a collaborative environment where members communicate openly and support each other.

  2. Planning and Decision-Making: Plan meetings in advance and establish decision-making processes.

  3. Demonstrations Over Descriptions: Use demonstrations to illustrate progress rather than just describing it.

  4. Honesty and Transparency: Be open about project issues and progress to maintain trust.

  5. Project Manager’s Role: Ensure the project manager handles day-to-day management while the committee provides high-level guidance.

  6. Support and Advocacy: Members should advocate for the project and provide necessary resources.

  7. Governance: The committee should oversee project quality, stakeholder management, and change management.


Having a steering group does not guarantee that a project will succeed or that it has a better chance of success. A poor, unbalanced, dictatorial, or misaligned steering group is unfortunately one of the main reasons why projects fail.

Conclusion

A steering committee plays a vital role in project management by providing strategic oversight, resolving conflicts, and ensuring that projects align with organisational objectives. Understanding the roles and responsibilities of a steering committee, running effective meetings, and fostering a collaborative environment are key to leveraging the committee’s full potential. By following these guidelines, organisations can ensure that their steering committees contribute to successful project outcomes and drive long-term success.

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IPMA South Africa, The Steering Committee: Guiding Projects to Success

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