Although few Steering Committees realise this but they’re actually there as a resource for you. They are there to ‘steer’ the project successfully into the business.
They run the business, you don’t. They can direct, control and manage the required changes in the business, you can only define, plan and support them.
If the business isn’t ready for the project (and you’ve done your part) then the steering committee has failed.
What you want is for them to be looking to see what has to done for your project to succeed, what obstacles exist that have to be removed, what other business or external events need to be taken into account and managed to ensure success.
You don’t just want them to turn up once a month to have a few pot shots at you!
Most steering committees think they’re there to ‘control the project’. Indeed, the recent use of the title Project Control Boards for steering committees, demonstrates a lack of understanding as to the steering committee’s role.
Yes, there is an element of ‘project control’, and yes, there is an element of board-like governance (are you complying with the necessary standards and policies?), but these are the lower value aspects of their role.
Where the steering committee adds value is by clearing the path for the project. This requires taking action.
As I said earlier, most steering committees don’t realise this is their role and are not prepared to adopt it, until enlightened (and, often, pushed).
A good exercise to do with your steering committee to make them aware of their role is, once the project is underway, to ask them to list “What could prevent this project from being successful?” Be sure to point their thinking towards the readiness of the organisation rather than just the project.
What you should get is a list of potential issues, some at least which will be outside the project’s control.
Ask them to categorise these issues’ likelihood and impact on the project.
Take all of the likely non-project controlled issues and tell them, “These are yours to manage. You’ve identified them as threats to your project’s success; these are not matters I can manage, so you need to take accountability and action them.”
Be prepared to help then think through and plan how to take appropriate action, but also take the opportunity to re-emphasise their essential active role.
If your steering committee refuses to acknowledge their active role, either directly or through not taking action, be sure to document and get their agreement as to what you are accountable for delivering and not delivering.
You can’t make them accountable and take action, In the worst case, you can only try to protect your reputation. This requires action on your part!
For further information and assistance on how to get your Sponsor to own their project see the governance materials at valuedeliverymanagement.com.
Click here for the first article in this the series "What Should You Expect From Your Project Sponsor? Ownership ".
Jed Simms is CIO magazine's weekly project management columnist. Simms, founder of projects and benefits delivery research firm Capability Management, is also the developer of specialised project management and project governance Web site www.project-sponsor.com
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