What Is a Steering Committee and What Is Its Role?

Jul 22, 2020

There you are, staring at a blank document preparing to write a proposal that needs to be sent to a steering committee. You might even have been asked to form a steering committee for your organization. Or perhaps you are being told that your product development needs to change direction.

In addition to IT management, steering committees are widely used outside IT, especially in project-based work. This means that you are likely to encounter them directly or indirectly in the future.

Regardless of the circumstances, you are currently seeking information about steering committees in order to gain a better understanding and present your best work. Luckily, I am here to help. This post will not only explain what steering committees are but also delve into their role, how they can benefit a business, and how to ensure they make well-informed decisions. To demonstrate the importance of accurate data, I will provide an example.

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Steering Committees: What Are They?

A steering committee is an advisory body that's part of IT—or other—governance. The members include experts, authority figures, and senior stakeholders in an organization or project. Because of this, steering committees have a significant stake in how projects are managed. Their main concerns are the direction, scope, budget, timeliness, and methods. Each of these aspects is discussed on a regular basis by steering committees, and the committees help set or reset the direction of the project.

Steering Committee Members

Typically, the roles and responsibilities of a steering committee do not involve actively carrying out prescribed tasks. Rather, it is typically comprised of senior managers or executives, key external stakeholders, and subject matter experts. The composition of a steering committee can vary depending on its purpose. For instance, a project steering committee might consist of the project manager and relevant external stakeholders such as customers. In contrast, an organizational steering committee may be composed of executives, select board members, and department heads.

While the composition of each steering committee may vary slightly, there are certain factors to consider. First and foremost, a chairperson should be selected through election rather than being the owner of the project being steered. This promotes impartiality in leading the committee. Additionally, the members should represent a diverse range of perspectives and equally cover all functions under its purview. This ensures the exchange of varied viewpoints and concepts. Simultaneously, open dialogue should be encouraged to allow for the consideration of all opinions. Lastly, it is crucial for the committee to have well-defined objectives and an organized agenda in order to effectively guide its direction.

How Does It Work?

The steering committee makes directional decisions on various organizational projects. Members of the committee assist project managers in achieving strategic company goals.

Steering committees also perform the following tasks:

Advocate for initiatives and projects across the organization

  • Ensure that projects are headed in the right direction

  • Advice or input on budgeting, including assets (such as people), money, facilities, time, hiring, and marketing

  • Determine the scope and goals of the project as well as how success will be measured

  • Approve or reject project plans and changes

  • To support projects, select project managers and experts

  • The deliverables of the project should be prioritized and reprioritized

  • Plan and monitor project processes

  • Resolve disputes between parties

  • Develop strategy and problem-solving ideas

  • Assist with concerns and issues related to projects or the company as a whole

  • Establish policies and procedures for governance

  • Risk identification, monitoring, and elimination

  • Keep an eye on project quality and make adjustments as necessary

The value of a steering committee

Considering the range of functions steering committees provide, it might seem quite clear that they can increase the value of a business or project. By keeping projects on track, managing budgets, mitigating risks, and resolving conflicts, steering committees increase value when they work properly. As a result of all of this happening independently of day-to-day operations, the value gain is heightened.

The line between successful governance that increases value and bureaucratic governance that wastes time and leads to poor decisions is a fine one. If a steering committee follows the guidelines of having a chairperson, diverse members, and openness and clear goals, what goes in determines what comes out. Consequently, data is arguably the biggest contributor to value gain.

Using the right data to make the right decisions

In order to gain the most value from a steering committee, the data must be meaningful and understandable. Bad or incomprehensible data can make it hard for the steering committee to make informed and timely decisions. On the other hand, usable data facilitates clear communication and accurately reflects current conditions.

How do you ensure the steering committee receives the right data?

BI stands for business intelligence.

Generally speaking, business intelligence refers to the process of collecting, storing, and analyzing organizational data in order to generate reports, identify trends, and measure performance. Business intelligence serves the sole purpose of improving management decisions. (Check out any of these Plutora blog posts that cover different aspects of BI for more information.)

Implementing business intelligence practices in companies is a match made in heaven. By automating or scheduling report and dashboard generation, steering committees gain access to meaningful data that aligns with their defined metrics. This enables a better understanding of project progress and facilitates clear communication for steering committees to make timely decisions.

Example: Value Stream Flows

If we quickly glance at Plutora's value streams dashboard and consider ourselves part of the steering committee, we can assess the value of good data.

advanced analytics - value streams

This dashboard displays the status of work, indicating if they are on schedule (blue or blue and gray), experiencing delays (orange), and their progress through planned time (amount of gray). Armed with this data, steering committee members can redistribute resources and address delays. They can also dig deeper into individual projects or value streams to identify any underlying causes for delays. This comprehensive BI dashboard provides all this information from a single, well-designed source of good data.

Think about the opposite. The steering committee would have to search for this data in every single one of those cells without BI. That's thirty individual searches where it could easily pick up misleading data. The committee would then have to consider each data set individually, bring it all together, and try to make the same decision that would be possible in just a few minutes with a BI dashboard.

A steering committee's value is maximized when the right data is available.

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