Steering committee

Steering committee overview

A steering committee is a governing group of key stakeholders and project leaders who have been brought together to guide a project or program toward its defined business outcomes. The steering committee isn't directly responsible for how the project is delivered, but rather what the project delivers to the business.

Every project requires an agreed-on vision and charter. To deliver the projects' desired outcomes the vision must be clearly defined, it needs to be monitored and maintained. This becomes the responsibility of the steering committee: to drive decisions, advise, provide strategic oversight, to serve as advocates to the organization for the project's initiatives, and—when necessary—remove blockers.

Your organization should put significant thought into the formation of the steering committee. The committee must ensure that the project achieves the business objectives you've defined for driving change throughout the organization, meet periodically to discuss the current pulse of the project, and help remove any obstacles that are encountered during the journey.

The committee should define its charter to include some key objectives:

  • Keep a strong alignment between the project team and the executive sponsor or executive leadership.

  • Provide insight into the status of the project to the executive sponsor or executive leadership.

  • Allow the executive sponsor or executive leadership team to provide direction and input to the project and ensure that it aligns with overarching business goals, by adjusting project plans, objective key results (OKRs), and other project activities.

The steering committee meets at a recurring interval throughout the lifetime of a project to ensure alignment between the organizational leadership and the project team. This critical meeting ensures that the direction of the project has leadership's full support and incorporates any feedback provided by leadership into the project to drive success. The committee uses these meetings to gain insight into project status, and also to:

  • Agree on business outcomes that align to the business case, and to ensure the project is driving towards delivery of these outcomes.

  • Check and approve the project for accuracy and compliance with the business case.

  • Review and verify changes made to the business case that could affect any defined outcomes.

  • Make strategic decisions regarding the prioritization of project deliverables, and approve interim deliverables.

  • Identify, manage, and mitigate gaps, risks, and issues where additional influence is required from the committee.

  • Gather support from the executive sponsor or executive leadership team for issues that require escalation, prioritizing and resolving any conflicts between stakeholder business units. 

  • Provide formal feedback and recommendations to executive leadership, the change advisory board, or other business and IT stakeholders, as applicable.

Identify members of the steering committee

A committee is only as effective as its participants are influential. The steering committee needs to maintain representation from both business and technical decision makers, along with any of the core project team leadership and partner teams who contribute to the solution.

Every steering committee needs strong leadership and clearly defined roles and responsibilities. To set realistic expectations for the committee's performance and the participation of its members, you must document and agree on assigned roles and responsibilities. You absolutely must have a responsive executive sponsor and business leadership on this committee to provide effective influence across the organization and ensure a diverse perspective.

Note

Adjust roles and responsibility based on your organization and project team design. In smaller organizations, these roles can overlap.

Title Role Contact Email
Executive Sponsor Advocate for the project, ensure its direction stays in alignment with the vision of the organization. Serve as ultimate authority to make decisions the committee can't agree on.
Business Decision Maker(s) Advocate for the project, ensure its direction stays in alignment with the vision of the organization
Architect Ensure that technology decisions are achievable and align to agreed-on business outcomes.
Core Project Team Provide details about any specific component, either technical or non-technical (such as adoption and change management)
Quality Champion Be accountable for putting together quality metrics.
Program/Project Manager Take responsibility for the presentation and collection of feedback to incorporate into the project.
Partner Account Team Provide feedback from the partner's point of view from a broader perspective, other partner activities.
Partner Project Team Provide feedback from the partner's point of view regarding the delivery of the project

Schedule steering committee meetings

Although every organization and every project team is structured in slightly different ways, the steering committee meeting should never become just another project standup meeting. Consider the objectives of the steering committee meeting: it's your opportunity to keep the project on track by gathering support and direction from the executive sponsor or executive leadership. Make sure that everyone attends this meeting so there's direct messaging between the entire project team and executive sponsor or executive leadership and there is no miscommunication when the message is relayed.

When scheduling a committee meeting, take into consideration the project and organizational cadence. Try to schedule it either weekly or every other week, based on your executive sponsors' preference and the pace of your organization.

Tip

If yours is a fast-moving environment, don't let too much time pass between meetings—that can lead to problems that could have been avoided by meeting more frequently. However, in a slower-paced environment, holding a meeting every week can lead to meeting fatigue, which might decrease the effectiveness of the steering committee. Use your experience and judgement to determine the appropriate cadence, and always remember that you can change the schedule. Don't meet just for the sake of meeting.

Prepare for the meeting

To make the most of everyone's time, you need to prepare for the meeting. The core team can start to prepare the material for the steering committee meeting. You can create a PowerPoint presentation to help prepare for the meeting.

The following assets should be completed and included in the presentation deck for the meeting:

  • Follow-up on prior steering committee action items

  • Steering committee PowerPoint, project high-level status report

    • Look at the project all up from a monthly/quarterly/yearly–type review.

    • Identify key project milestones:

      • Discuss the importance and impact of milestones (these should be captured in the risks register).

      • Decide on go/no-go for upcoming migrations based on preparation, particularly with business decision makers.

    • Call out project execution dates and high-impact activities.

    • Report on the OKRs that were identified as important to the committee; be sure to include usage, user sentiment, quality and reliability metrics.

  • Steering Committee PowerPoint, project weekly status report

    • Contains highlight and lowlights, key issues, and action items, and next steps.

    • Contains more technical detail focused on day to day issues and less on overall project status.

  • Issues log and risks register

    • Share the status of any issues that the committee is tracking.

      • Be prepared to provide an update on any and all bugs.
    • Identify any new items that could affect the success of achieving business outcomes.

      • Identify their impact on the project.

      • Identify the affected individuals or business units.

      • Identify next steps and what assistance might be required from committee members.

  • Quality overview: Use guidance from Prepare your network for Teams.

    • Be prepared to explain the results of those quality reports in-depth, and include recommendations to remediate any issues noted.

    • Adjust the quality reports each week to focus on the following areas:

      • Overall quality trends for the organization

      • The status of known problem sites or sites experiencing issues, to show the direction the site is heading and—ideally—report positive results from remediation work

      • The quality status of recently enabled sites based on project progress

Next, schedule a call to prepare for the steering committee meeting. This call should only include the team members who are critical from the core project team, this could include resources from networking, desktop, operations, or other teams that have items that will be addressed during the committee meeting. The core project team members should never be caught off-guard by any material you plan to cover during the steering committee call.

This preparatory call is a great way to sync before the steering committee meets. It's also the time to ensure that any open items, disagreements, or grievances among the project team are brought to light. This is meant to help foster open communication and prevent anyone from being unpleasantly surprised during the meeting.

Review that week's reports with the core team and partner stakeholders and address any concerns or questions. Work within the team to adjust, add, or remove any content based on your discussions, or agree to ask for additional clarification from the steering committee. Assign the team members who will present each section, to help ensure flow and continuity.

Hold the meeting

The meeting itself should be a natural continuation of the prep work that the core team has done. Remember that the goal of these meetings is to foster an atmosphere of communication and collaboration to achieve the vision of the project. Use the following suggestions to help ensure the success of the meetings:

  1. Schedule the meeting to be face to face. Identify a conference room with a table that's large enough for everyone to sit around. Ensure the meeting room has video capabilities. Although it would be ideal to have everyone in the room, it's not always possible, so ensure the meeting invitation includes the conference room and the online meeting information with at least audio—but, ideally, audio, video and sharing. Encourage all remote participants to use video when they join the meeting.

  2. Try to keep to the agenda, though no doubt distractions will arise that need to be addressed. If possible (depending on their importance), add these items to a "parking lot" section and address them later . If the topic is too important to postpone, get agreement to continue discussing it, but realize that you'll need to move some other agenda items to future meetings. Agree to set aside some time (five to ten minutes) to address any pressing items that need the immediate attention of the committee.

  3. Be prepared to discuss any open support cases. Try to keep the discussion as high-level as possible for this meeting—number of tickets, types of tickets, major open items. You should be prepared to address all issues, even if they're minor, understand the impact to the business and effects on the project

  4. Delegate a note-taker. It's too difficult to take notes while you're presenting or in the middle of a heated debate. Make sure that details are documented for any decisions that are made in the committee. Be prepared to send these decisions and notes out as part of a follow-up email.

  5. Always try to promote the positive news about people's work effort and user feedback (if available). Tell and sell the story. If feedback is wholly negative, be prepared to discuss it and explain what's being done to address the negative user experience issues.

    a. Take the opportunity to give kudos to individual team members for the good work they're doing. It's important to recognize when excellent, hard work is being accomplished by team members, especially in front of their leadership team.

  6. Always save the end of the meeting to agree on any next steps and identify the owner of those action items that were agreed on during the meeting.

  7. Send attendees follow-up email that includes the presentation you created, and append any notes that were taken. Be sure to include anyone who didn't attend.

Next steps

After reviewing the overview of the steering committee, it's now time to act. The project team should begin their work to implement the steering committee into the project's timeline and prepare a regular steering committee meeting cadence. Ideally, the committee will be formed before the project begins and provide guidance throughout all its phases, but if that can't be the case, form the committee to guide the project team to a successful outcome.

  1. Identify steering committee members. Ask yourselves:

    • Do we have the right representation from the business and leadership?

    • Are the members we identified able to influence their business units or peers in other units?

  2. Create a communication to send to each member of the steering committee:

    • Include the roles table.

    • Sell the importance of the committee.

  3. Set up the first meeting to discuss roles and responsibilities, define the charter of the committee, and validate or define the OKRs. Agenda items can also include:

    • Discuss the meeting cadence.

    • Validate that the charter and OKRs are driving toward a meaningful business outcome.

    • Verify that the strategy is in alignment with OKRs.

  4. Start driving quality in every conversation:

    • Articulate the importance of having a quality champion.

    • Identify the people or team who will take on the Quality Champion role.

Steering committee success doesn't happen by luck. Choosing the right members, with the best of intentions, can still yield poor results. To help drive the success of the steering committee, you need to ensure you have the following:

  • An agreed-on vision and scope for the project with well-defined, measurable business outcomes that the committee will be advocating.

  • A well-organized agenda that drives purposeful meetings.

  • An atmosphere of open communication.

    • Open communication and collaboration will empower the committee. Create an environment where all voices are heard and opinions are respected. Unique perspectives can have the greatest impact.

    • An open environment can be enabled when leadership acts to promote member collaboration and communication. Here are some guidelines:

      • All committee members should be strong advocates for the change that's being introduced to the organization.

      • Keep the committee size limited to those who are absolutely needed to provide an accurate picture and those who can make or influence decisions across business units. Understanding the organization's hierarchy and each member's direct line of influence will be crucial when blockers appear.

      • Engage the project managers and team leaders in committee discussions and deliberations. Be ready to invite additional core team members to bring clarity to in-depth discussions that might be needed in specific areas.

Over the lifecycle of the solution the role of the committee will change. As envisioning and onboarding move into the drive value phase several adjustments may be needed to the committee:

  • Adjust the cadence of the meeting. Look at the dynamic of the organization and determine if the meeting needs to happen less frequently. As the organizational change begins to dwindle the frequency for up-level communication will likely diminish. Investigate changing the meeting to a monthly or quarterly meeting cadence if appropriate

  • Adjust the representatives in the meeting. As the solution moves into the drive value phase it is likely that the core project team will be reassigned to new projects. It will be necessary to update the team that is reporting as support and operations will become the leads on the status of the solution.

  • Definition and reporting against operational OKRs. Key results and success indicators will change over the lifecycle of the solution. The desired business outcomes should continue to be tracked and reported. Continue to report on the quality and reliability of the voice solution in the context of driving towards the business outcome. Additional metrics and key results, such as, user sentiment, user adoption and support metrics will become the top indicators of success.

  • Use a larger steering committee umbrella to cover the drive value phases of multiple solutions. Look for opportunities to more efficiently use the steering committee. Use the committee to provide guidance across a larger sphere of solutions.