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What Is a Steering Committee? How to Organize It? [5 Essential Steps]

 

Part 1

What Is the Purpose of a Steering Committee?

Steering committees are advisory bodies that are made up of senior stakeholders or experts that provide guidance on a lot of different issues that could face companies such as budgets, new endeavors, company policy, marketing strategies, and project management concerns.

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On a departmental level, these groups can help with the selection, definition, and control of projects. Project steering committees are likely a part of a larger project governance structure that has the duty of managing the team’s progress when it comes to meeting project goals and deadlines.

Stakeholders can include executives and client representatives. Specifically, their purpose is to make sure projects align with business objectives, monitor progress, approving any changes related to scope or budgets, conflict resolution, project strategy, and the overall task of getting the team to produce deliverables eventually.

 

Why Is It Important to Have an Effective Steering Committee?

Every departmental project may not require the help or management of a steering committee. However, if the plan is for a considerable amount of cross-departmental interaction and the involvement of a lot of internal stakeholders, then help from a steering committee is necessary. One of their primary functions is to manage conflicts that could arise between departments and stakeholders. A steering committee that includes individuals from a lot of different sectors can make sure all relevant voices are heard. Steering committees can also help teams keep the right perspective when it comes to their projects, stay on budget, and carefully analyze the impact that any changes could cause to the original scope. Because their role can help create success or failure, leaders need to work to put together steering committees that are effective. Here are a few pieces of data that reveal why the guidance of an efficient and effective steering committee is needed for companies tackling larger projects:

  • Only 2.5 percent of companies successfully complete 100 percent of their projects.
  • On average, companies go over project budget by 27 percent.
  • The failure rate of projects with a budget of $1 million is 50 percent, a cost that is higher than projects with a $350,000 budget.

All of these issues could have likely been mitigated by a well-trained governing body like a project steering committee. However, before discussing ways to create an effective steering committee, leaders need to understand the challenges to accomplishing this.

Part 2

Challenges to Establishing a Steering Committee

Steering committees are an important component of the project management process. When creating one, there are some challenges and potential pitfalls that leaders need to be aware of.

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  1. Handling Differing Personalities and Interests

    It is crucial for leaders to have various levels of managers and executives on the steering committee. This creates a lot of positives as many voices and interests can be taken into account throughout the project lifecycle. Unfortunately, this can also create a challenge as personality conflicts can arise since those in senior leadership may take a more active decision-making role over those that are mid-level managers. This can create tense conflicts and competing interests.

  2. An Increase in Meetings

    Naturally, steering committees will want to meet to decide on project budgets, scopes, changes, and any other topic that could arise. The potential problem with this is that it could take time away from the actual work that needs to be done. Team members may have to wait longer than anticipated for decisions from the steering committee which could push the entire project past a deadline.

  3. The Threat of Bargaining

    Again, many of the members of the steering committee could only be concerned about their interest. Therefore, leaders have to be sure they set parameters about how long the project will be analyzed and how many requirements and specifications will be changed or added. This needs to be outlined through the steering committee creation process.

  4. Defined Roles

    This might not be everyone’s first time on a steering committee, so many will probably know the basics of how it works. However, everyone does not have experience on the current project. As a result, it is imperative that leaders clearly define what the role of each member of the steering committee is. This can be difficult if it is a large group of people.

  5. A Higher Probability of Group-Think

    Often, there is either one person or a small group of people who decide to take the lead in a group setting. They may either have strong opinions or act in their own self-interests, which makes it difficult for those who oppose them to voice their views concerning project scope or direction.

Part 3

5 Essential Steps to Create an Effective Steering Committee

With challenges and disadvantages in mind, leaders can make informed decisions on taking steps to create an effective steering committee. Below are steps leaders can take to create well-functioning and efficient project steering committees.

  1. Pick the Right People

    There are a lot of factors that leaders need to take into account when selecting individuals for a steering committee.

    A. The first is the individual’s personality and the likelihood that they are successful working in teams.

    B. The other major factor is organizational representation. For large projects, various departments should be represented in the organization by someone with appropriate decision-making authority.

  2. Inform Them of the Project

    A. Regardless of the experience that everyone may have serving on steering committees, each person needs to understand the plan, description, purpose, and current scope.

    B. Members should receive information before the initial meeting so they can craft any questions they have beforehand.

  3. Set Clear Rules and Goals

    A. Leaders need to give steering committee members the tools to perform their duties by setting standards and clear goals.

    B. Does the budget need to stay within a specific parameter?

    C. How many deadline or scope changes will be allowed?

    D. Is there a limit on ideas that can be implemented? These are all questions that need to be answered in meetings with steering committee members.

  4. Schedule Follow-Up Meetings as Necessary

    A. Frequent meetings can decrease efficiency and effectiveness. Therefore, leaders need to only schedule meetings when there is something appropriate to discuss such as a budget or scope change.

    B. If changes are not frequent, leaders may want to schedule benchmark meetings throughout the development of the project as needed.

    C. It is crucial that every session has a defined purpose.

  5. Make Communication and Debriefing a Priority

    A. This can happen through developing a mechanism for committee members to communicate with each other and the project manager.

    B. Leaders can create a plan for teams to meet with the steering committee to answer questions and update them on progress, or even utilize a company intranet for progress updates.

    C. After the completion of the project, leaders should debrief with committee members to gain insight into the process and any problems that occurred.

Part 4

Best Practices for Developing a Steering Committee

Below are helpful tips leaders can use to create an effective and efficient steering committee that guide project teams to success.

  • Provide Training and Coaching

    There may be some members that are new to serving on a steering committee. Leaders can help ease them into their duties by providing training and coaching. Committee members are as productive as their experience will allow, so it is essential that leaders offer an adequate education for committee members new and experienced.

  • Keep a Manageable Size

    Leaders should make it a priority to not make steering committee teams to small or big. One change management framework suggested that leaders keep the size to around six, a size large enough to represent a lot of the organization’s department but not too big to encroach on efficiency.

  • Always Provide Agenda Information Beforehand

    Meetings will go a lot faster and operate at a higher level of efficiency if agendas concerning project information are given to the steering committee before they arrive. This will allow them to craft any initial questions they have before the meeting to save time.

  • Encourage Fast Decision-Making

    It makes sense for members to take time to make informed decisions, however, when a group is involved, a decision that should only take 24 hours could end up taking a week if there are not any established parameters for how long decision-making should take. Leaders should express that the purpose is not about rushing decisions, but facilitating efficiency so that teams are not left to push back deadlines.

  • Have a Liaison Between the Project Manager and Committee

    It is a great idea to have the project manager serve as a liaison between the project manager and steering committee. It will cut down confusion if all questions, concerns, and decisions are communicated to the project manager so they can disperse the information uniformly.

If done correctly, steering committees can be a useful governing body for project managers. The priority of every leader regarding project management should be to increase efficiency and create an environment where the steering committee can fulfill their duties efficiently. This involves selecting the right people, outlining clear responsibilities, establishing times to meet, and setting parameters on decision-making. Project managers cannot handle the burden of leading a massive project by themselves, so it is favorable to have a steering committee that can step in and provide guidance and assistance.

Effective collaboration with your steering committee is all about communicating effectively.
Status.net is a cloud solution for effective communication with your steering committee. It brings a more light-hearted tone to messaging making it easily digestible, and makes it easy for teams to provide updates and receive feedback regularly.

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How to use Status Platform for status updates:

  1. Easily implement regular status updates by creating a status feed for your team and inviting the members of your steering committee as observers.
  2. Peace of mind: No one forgets to fill in their status updates because Status Platform sends timely reminders according to the recurrence schedule you chose.
  3. Receive guidance and feedback:
    Each status update has a separate section for comments, which is used by leaders and members of steering committee to clarify information and provide guidance and feedback.
  4. Optionally, enrich reports with the latest updates automatically added from web apps your team uses (such as project management tools, version control systems, support systems, financial applications, CRM, etc.) by connecting these apps to your status feed.
  5. Spend less time on meetings by making them more productive because everyone is on the same page at all times.
  6. Use status updates for future reference and decrease time and efforts spent on monthly, quarterly, and yearly reporting thanks to powerful filtering and export features.
  7. Sharing: Status updates can be either
    — exported to files and printed, or sent by email;
    — shared with manager online; or
    — shared online as company-wide or team-wide status reports, i.e., all team members share their progress with each other.

How to configure status updates:

Step 1:

  • Create a “Status Report” applet — customize our preset forms or easily create a new form in minutes.
  • Setup reminders if you want your team members to receive automatic reminders when their reports are due.
  • Configure who will submit reports by choosing the “Participants” tab.

Step 2: Users will click the “Open Submission Form” button to fill in and submit the report.

form template

Data such as the report type, date and name will be added automatically.

As soon as a new status report is added, participants with “View” rights can view it in real time.

Options:

  • Set the status applet as “Team-wide” if you want all team members to view each other’s status reports.
  • Alternatively, you can make every participant to view his/her own reports only. Manager/stakeholders will view all reports.
  • Add, remove, and assign new team members at any time.

As soon as a new status update is added, participants with “View” rights can view it in real time when they log in to their accounts. They will also automatically receive emails with the full text of status updates.

Done!

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How to use Status Platform for meeting summaries:

  1. Make meeting summaries instantly available to the team members and stakeholders, including those who were not present at the meeting.
  2. Save time with auto completion: Most fields (such as date, name, formatting, etc.) are inserted automatically by software.
  3. Option to have post-meeting comments in context: Each meeting summary has its own section for comments.
  4. Draw the attention of specific team members to the latest meeting summary by using the “mentions” feature; for example, if you need input or clarifications from those people.When you @mention a team member either in your meeting summary or its comments section, they will receive a separate personal notification and will know they’re expected to take action.
  5. Peace of mind: Recurrence can be configured for regular meetings. In this case, the assigned people will receive timely automatic reminders to write the latest meeting summary.
  6. Eliminate data silos: All meeting summaries are accurately collected in one place and can be easily accessed and shared with anyone, including managers and colleagues from other departments.If post-meeting discussions took place in the meeting summary’s comments section, this info will be automatically documented and available as well.
  7. Configure visibility settings with the “Team-wide” and “Invite-only” modes.
  8. Collectively create meeting summaries by adding multiple contributors.
  9. Sharing: Meeting summaries can be either
    — exported to files and printed, or sent by email;
    — shared online with selected people (in this case, an email will be sent automatically to those with “View” permission); or
    — shared online company-wide or team-wide (an email with the full text of meeting summaries will be sent automatically to each team member).

How to configure meeting summaries:

Step 1:

  • Create a “Meeting Summary” feed and set up a recurrence (for regular meetings, set how often you usually hold meetings; for irregular meetings you can leave this setting blank).
  • Configure who will write and have access to meeting summaries by choosing the “Participants” tab and then clicking the “Cog” button near the “Feed Participants” title.
how to create meeting summary status feed

Options:

  • Set the meeting summaries feed as “Team-wide” if you want all team members to view meeting summaries.
  • Alternatively, you can allow access to meeting summaries for certain participants only. In this case, turn “Team-wide” mode OFF and invite viewers; restrict viewing by unchecking “View” properties for other team members.
  • Check the “Update” checkbox for those who are assigned to write meeting summaries. They will receive timely reminders to fill in the latest meeting summary, according to the “Recurrence” setting you configured in Step 1. The Recurrence feature is optional and can be turned off.
  • You can add, remove, and assign feed participants at any time.

Step 2: The meeting summary should be added to the “Update” field of the feed.

  • Use of bulleted or numbered lists has been shown to improve readability and productivity.
  • If different people create separate summaries for different parts of the meeting, each of them should fill in the “Update” field and click “Submit.”
how to add an update to status report
  • Participants can comment on a meeting summary (or a part of meeting summary, if posted separately by different people) in its comments section, which ensures the right context and makes additions available for further reference.
  • Mention those people who you want to take action or pay attention by using @ before their names. These people will receive personal notifications on their status accounts and by email.
how to use mentions status feed

Info such as the date and the name of the person who wrote that meeting summary will be added automatically.

As soon as a new meeting summary is added, participants with “View” rights can view it in real time when they log in to their Status Platform accounts. They will also automatically receive an email with the full text of the latest meeting summary.

Step 3 (Optional): Generate a meeting summary report and export it to PDF.
(Skip this step if you share meeting summaries online and don’t print them.)

  • Choose date range
  • Click “file” button
  • Choose type of report (“By Date” – to sort meeting summaries by date) and click “Generate Report
how to export your meeting summary

Done!

screenshot of final meeting summary

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See also: How to Make Meeting Agendas 10x Easier