Who Should be in the Steering Committee?
The Steering Committee is usually comprised of senior team members – all key stakeholders as well as the Project Manager and Principal Consultant on the team. The Steering Committee may be just 4 people, but it can be quite a bit more on larger projects. There are diminishing returns on the size of Steering Committees, so choose carefully. For example, in the extreme case you might have multiple stakeholders on a project, e.g. each affected department head, IT, legal, business lines, even an acquiring company, the acquired company and potentially multiple consultants. Things to keep in mind:
- If there’s a manager who has authority/ownership of several areas, they might be the best representative for the Steering Committee rather than every level of stakeholder.
- Keep in mind participants that are a dependency but do not necessarily directly benefit from the project.
- Resisters of projects can sometimes be great participants in the Steering Committee – working together actively can create alignment.
- Think about the people involved in change management. A solution is only good if it is adopted. They often have great ideas even unrelated to technology that can help make the project an overall success.
How Often Should They Meet?
Because Salesforce projects move quickly and every day can bring significant progress, the team should meet often. We recommend once a week so that the Steering Committee is in tune with issues and can rapidly address them. For weeks with no issues, it’s an excellent opportunity to cut the meeting short or invest the time to brainstorm opportunities for improvement.
What Should be Covered?
There are many best practices on Steering Committees. Some of the best run Steering Committees may take things quite seriously, i.e. create a project charter, have complex RACI charts for ownership and decision making and have subcommittees upon sub-committees. Sure, for large projects this may be essential.
For most cloud-based projects, we recommend a very lean approach to the Steering Committee process – rightsized to the project at hand. We recommend Steering Committees for any SaaS projects with:
- Multiple stakeholders
- Third parties involved
- Medium to large size in hours, budget and length
- Medium to a high level of complexity
Every Steering Committee meeting should include an agenda and next steps. Usually, the agenda will cover the following and can be adjusted based on preference:
- What happened this past week and what is the plan for next week? What are the roadblocks? (for those familiar with Agile, this is like the daily standup structure)
- Cover Project Plan KPI’s (timeline, milestones, budget, deliverable progress)
- Current issues / blockers
- Potential risk areas
- Track items, next steps and follow up
Document issues brought up and decisions made. Once trust and a great working cadence is established, many of these items can be prepared and sent beforehand, making Steering Committee meetings even more productive and effective.
Even this simple “meta” structure – looking “at” the project and how it can be better can pay very big dividends.
What to Avoid?
While Steering Committees are helping ensure the project team is successful, who is helping the Steering Committee? Usually, no one. The Steering Committee themselves need to reflect constantly on how they are effective. Some common things to watch out for:
- Don’t micromanage – for the most part, trust the team to do what they do best.
- Are all stakeholders present and fully committed and participating? It’s easy to hear only the good news, but the best Steering Committee teams analyze and ask the hard questions.
- Ineffective leadership- – one of the toughest things for managers is to prioritize. Hard decisions help to pave the way for improved productivity.
Unfortunately, it’s easy for an oversight committee to not add any value. Perhaps they don’t provide visibility across the organization? Perhaps they might apply pressure all the time on the team but don’t support the team with necessary funds and attention to accomplish the goals. Perhaps they make decisions too slowly. When done right though Steering Committees can really pave a much easier path for a team to succeed and to also lay the groundwork for change management to occur much more successfully. Steering Committees are like an insurance policy for a successful outcome to a project. For many, paying some small percentage more to help significantly increase your chances for success is an extremely wise investment.