Kicking off a project is a particularly exciting time of a project. There’s a lot of trust going around and great hope that this project will be the best project ever. One can already taste the ROI that stakeholders will enjoy. The cold hard truth though is that every project takes smarts and hard work. While cloud-based SaaS projects are typically weeks and months in length, compared to traditional IT software projects of quarters and years, they also can fail just like they do in large scale projects. We all know deep down that projects don’t just become successful by themselves. You can’t start the project and go on cruise control, or worse, just put on blinders until the end.
For every project, there are people, process, and technology issues that need to be managed proactively. Strategic oversight is critical to achieving project success. How important is this project to you? What would failure look like? What would a big win look like? What risk factors are in play? How complex is this project? Depending upon how you answer these, it might require your full attention to shepherd this process to success. While there are a few scenarios for success, there are a million ways that failure can manifest itself. Planning and proactively addressing issues will significantly improve your odds for success – delivering the business value on time, on budget, and meeting or exceeding quality expectations..
A solid project management process, experienced team-members, and sufficient resourcing are all key ingredients. In this article, we would like to bring up another key tactic for success. The Steering Committee. We all know executive support is crucial, but how can we build that into a process? Forming a Steering Committee provides a best practices venue for active leadership.
What is the Purpose of the Steering Committee?
Ultimately you want the project to be a raging success. Success may be defined quite specifically at the beginning of the project but might morph as the project moves forward. Perhaps there’s a limitation in the technology? Maybe as you go into the details, the assumptions going into the project didn’t turn out as expected (for example: Data quality was much worse than people expected), or perhaps there are staffing changes/re-organizations that might happen during the project. Even during the project the business climate might shift. Change happens so expect it! The key is constant alignment with the business goals and the project team any of which might be moving targets. In addition, there may be multiple paths to get to the same destination — it takes great leadership to help move along the right path to success.
The Steering Committee has unique responsibilities and capabilities that can strengthen crucial areas of a project, including:
- Resource allocation
- Team productivity
- Scope alignment (amongst potentially changing business requirements)
- Motivation and productivity
- Best practices
- Decision making
- Removal of blockers
Some quick examples include:
- Nobody enters a project with complete or perfect information. All parties learn more as they get into the details. What if scope changes when the customer learns of a new capability that would make total sense business-wise to include but wasn’t initially budgeted? The Steering Committee would have the power to request/add budget if the business imperatives dictate that to be the wisest choice.
- Resource allocation is key to a project – everybody has their day job, but if they don’t have the time to invest in the project, the risk increases exponentially.
- Team productivity is key to keeping projects on time and budget. Steering Committee members can re-prioritize a participant’s focus or make a critical decision that enables team members to start working. Keeping the team focused on meeting the overarching business goals can help the team make better decisions. For example, the option of full automation of every possible scenario may be incredibly expensive and fraught with risk versus a slimmed-down version that masters the most common flows and lets the exception cases be manually handled. Which is the best choice?
- Team-members need to understand the benefits the project will bring. When team-members are excited, they become engaged and much more productive. Steering Committee members can help lay the groundwork for high motivation and productivity. Who doesn’t want to be a part of a high-performance team addressing a critical company-wide need? Motivation also can overlap with pace — setting a rapid pace is critical to a successful project. The longer the project drags on, the more risk is introduced. Steering Committee members can create the urgency needed to make the project more successful.
- Steering Committee members usually have a wide variety of skills and experiences and often bring best practices to bear on the project. It’s essential for the committee to always ask the question: How are we doing? Can we do it better? How?
- Decision-making is probably the most important thing that the Steering Committee can provide for the project execution team. Decisions are needed all the time during a project — are the user stories approved? Is the system design approved? How should we handle this potential project delay caused by a dependency? Did we pass testing and can now go to Go-Live? Knowing how decisions are made and having the Steering Committee to make critical decisions rapidly can help the project team be much more efficient.
- Just about every project will have some blockers. Maybe we are waiting on a data pull from an internal consultant? Perhaps the only open time slot where we can get all stakeholders in a room for a decision is late next week. Blockers happen and need to be unblocked! Resourceful teams can get the job done, but there are always some blockers that escalate. Better to have them addressed by a team who can do it rapidly — or better yet predict these blockers and mitigate them proactively.
Next Issue (Part 2) – In the next issue we will cover who your Steering Committee team members should be, the scope of their role, how they work, and what to avoid.