Steering committee: the comprehensive guide for corporate executives

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Steering committee: the comprehensive guide for corporate executives

By iDeals Board
December 22, 2023
13 min read
steering committee

The success of every business initiative depends on project management. But how often do we wonder about the people behind a successful case? According to the most recent Talent Gap study from PMI, there will be a demand for 2.3 million project management professionals each year. Surprisingly, just 23% of companies use project management software, indicating a considerable opportunity for future development.

This article explores the role of a steering committee in the company and project management. It also delves into the steering committee examples, structure, and best practices of the committee’s meeting.  

What is a steering committee? 

Project steering committees, also known as stakeholder boards, senior leadership teams, or project teams manage projects from start to finish throughout their lifecycle. The steering committee members are key stakeholders, project managers, and high-ranking officials. A nominating committee selects them all, ensuring project success and guiding project resource utilization.

As a part of a larger project governance structure, the IT steering committee is in charge of the strategic project direction in line with its aims and objectives. More specifically, the purpose of steering committee is related to the progress and direction of project initiatives, their scope, budget, and procedures. 

Sometimes individuals confuse the steering committee and the advisory committee due to similar responsibilities. What does a steering committee do exactly? Well, while both committees offer guidance and support, their roles and responsibilities differ significantly. In general, it’s a steering committee if they make decisions and an advisory group if they provide advice.

The flowchart below assists in determining whether to form an advisory committee or a steering committee.  

The flowchart below assists in determining whether to form an advisory committee or a steering committee.

What is the steering committee structure?

Typically, the corporate steering committee is made up of professionals with wide commercial expertise and technological specialists. The project management committees consist of business leaders such as chief information officer (CIO), chief operating officer (COO), chief technology officer (CTO), board officers, line-of-business executives, and department heads.

This helps to guarantee that any data-use decisions are made with a larger context in mind. Also, senior stakeholders should possess a genuine interest in the project strategy and project plan. It’s important to also understand the project milestones and concerns. 

Determining the appropriate size for a committee may be difficult because both small and big groups have advantages and downsides. If the committee is too small, the project may lack the range of expertise and opinions essential for success and strategic direction. As a result, an effective steering committee should be kept to a comfortable size. 

Don Harrison, the developer of the AIM change management framework, says that a group of six professionals is large enough to represent all relevant stakeholders. People who should be on a steering committee can fill the following positions:

  • Chairpersons of committees or the chairman
  • Executive directors or key stakeholders on the board
  • Industry experts
  • Client representatives
  • Principal investigators (for steering committees of trials)
  • External groups and organizations’ key stakeholders

Steering committee roles and responsibilities

Steering committee is not directly involved in the project lifecycle. However, they may take up specific tasks individually to ensure the project’s success. Therefore, the steering committee’s purpose here is to comprehend and enhance the strategies employed to achieve business objectives. 

Steering committees’ responsibilities extend beyond decision-making and include crucial functions such as corporate resolution signing authority. To ensure openness, accountability, and adherence to legal and ethical principles, a comprehensive governance structure is required.

Take a closer look at steering committee roles and responsibilities:

  1. Strategic planning. Providing feedback on a company’s or initiative’s growth and development, determining project results, and prioritizing stages and objectives.
  2. Policy formulation. Assisting in developing corporate policies, the project’s purpose, and processes.
  3. Project oversight. Mapping out clear deadlines, proactively monitoring progress, and securing the attainment of key project goals.
  4. Quality assurance. Maintaining high standards of project deliverables by monitoring the final work’s quality.
  5. Change analysis. Exploring the project’s changes that have occurred or will occur. 
  6. Team collaboration. Maintaining positive and timely communication encourages team collaboration, and innovative ideas and improves board reporting.

How to run a steering committee meeting?

To guarantee the success of a steering committee meeting in guiding organizational activities, it must be run strategically. The effectiveness of the committee meeting hinges on one key element: clearly defined and measurable goals. Here are the best practices for running a successful steering committee meeting.

1. Anchor your goals in the strategic framework 

What are the main goals of the project? How does the initiative fit into the larger picture? Incorporate these broad ideas into specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) committee goals. Consider this: what are the primary project goals that the project steering committee is guiding? How to determine success? What are KPIs? 

2. Involve your committee members in goal-setting

Collaboration encourages ownership and commitment. To encourage active engagement, ask questions such as, “What success metrics can we use to track progress?”, “What potential obstacles might we face, and how can we mitigate them?” This strategy promotes a collaborative atmosphere in which everyone is driven to contribute to the achievement of common goals.

3. Don’t be afraid to revise and refine

A project is a dynamic entity that adjusts to unforeseen circumstances as it progresses. Be willing to change your goals in response to fresh facts or unexpected problems. For this, regular assessments and discussions at steering committee meetings enable you to remain adaptable and change your approach while being aligned with the overarching plan.

The case study of successful goal-setting and implementation highlights the growing demand for steering committees. Following the launch of a new medicine, a pharmaceutical company had a goal to develop a patient database for real-world data collecting. They need fast and frequent input from a global panel of Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs), yet regular in-person or virtual meetings were impossible owing to time zone variations and expenses.

Then, the platform Health Expert Connect was used, which included features such as questionnaires, discussion forums, virtual meetings, and screen-sharing sessions with KOLs. Other than that, the steering committee’s responsibilities in this case were the following: 

  1. The committee aided in the initial goal-setting process by describing the patient database’s planned functionality and objectives.
  2. They then used Health Expert Connect’s platform to collect and incorporate comments from KOLs, resulting in a more focused and realistic set of objectives that reflected varied viewpoints and real-world demands.
  3. This approach allowed for constant feedback-based improvements, ensuring that the database was finally created for the best user experience and data collecting.

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Essentials of steering committee meeting 

Meetings of the steering committee might feel like significant stake adventures into the unknown. But, these gatherings rely on the steering committee charter. This document guides discussions, decisions, and the entire project’s progress.

  1. Aligning the agenda with the charter. Prioritize agenda items that directly contribute to the charter’s subject, while balancing milestone reports with strategic discussions.
  2. Open communication as a priority.  Create an environment in which individuals may freely express themselves and engage in healthy discussion. Remember that the ultimate aim is to collaboratively develop a robust and adaptive approach, not to attain universal agreement.
  3. Resolving, not recording. Avoid excessive documentation and use meetings to make decisions using the charter’s framework.
  4. Moving from discussion to action. Make decisions in the meeting using the charter’s framework to drive the project forward, not just for documentation.

Steering committee best practices

Steering committees rely on good decision-making since they are tasked with directing vital organizational projects. However, balancing conflicting viewpoints and finding consensus demands extraordinary skills. Here, we’ll look at best practices for keeping your committee on track.

1. Collaboration and consensus 

Building consensus is important to successful steering committee decision-making. Encourage free communication by enabling members to express themselves without fear of being judged. To ensure that all points of view are heard and considered, use facilitation techniques such as active listening, agenda setting, and polite discussion. However, disagreement is not a protest. Accept it as a chance for critical thought and development.

2. Diversity is key 

Diverse boards, particularly those in the top quartile for gender diversity, are 28% more likely to outperform peers. Members with a variety of viewpoints may provide ideas and answers. As a result, a committee with varied expertise, experience, and methods unlocks deeper understanding by harmonizing diverse viewpoints.

3. Conflict resolution

Implement pre-established processes for productively resolving disagreements.  Encourage mediation or compromise to find solutions that put the common benefit ahead of individual ambitions. Remember that the end aim is not to just win arguments, but to reach a consensus that benefits the company.

Genentech Pharmaceutical Company is a successful example of decision-making in the steering committee. Researchers at Genentech are pushing the frontiers of innovation for even more effective cancer therapies by collaborating with other partners and making data-driven, informed decisions. 

They are cooperating with academic institutions, biotech startups, and even technology companies, each with its own set of skills. This idea exchange promotes a dynamic atmosphere in which cutting-edge research may thrive. But how does Genentech know they’re making the proper choices when it comes to these partnerships? Here are some important thoughts:

  1. Clear goals and objectives. Genentech has a clear vision of what it aims to achieve before getting into any cooperation. This allows them to find the ideal partners and measure their progress toward their objectives.
  2. Extensive due diligence. This involves evaluating their past performance, skills, and resources.
  3. Data-driven decision-making. Genentech operates with data to guide all of its actions, from selecting partners to selecting research initiatives. 

Why is communication important in steering committee success

Among the strategic initiatives, where one-quarter fail, honest communication is critical to success. Poor communication, according to the Project Management Institute (PMI), is a primary issue affecting the successful execution of well-planned projects. As a result, steering committees must prioritize communication as a critical component of their effectiveness. 

The infographic below shows the other reasons for project failure:

reasons for project failure
  • Prioritize open and transparent dialogue
  • Regular meetings. Integrate brief, focused meetings with asynchronous updates and open dialogue channels to maintain alignment with the project team.
  • Collaborative platforms. Equip your team with common tools for fast information exchange, such as virtual meetings and cloud storage.
  • Feedback channels. Encourage open feedback to swiftly detect problems and adjust course.
  • Foster stakeholder engagement
  • Clear messaging. Foster open dialogue and interactive exchanges to ensure all stakeholders understand the committee’s purpose and path.
  • Regular progress reports. Keep stakeholders aware of milestones met and obstacles encountered.
  • Active listening. Pay attention to stakeholder comments and respond to their problems as soon as possible.
  • Bridge collaboration gaps
  • Ground rules and expectations. Set expectations for communication and cooperation from the start.
  • Organized brainstorming. Through organized sessions, encourage varied viewpoints and idea production.
  • Team-buildings. They foster trust and break down communication obstacles.

Mitigation of challenges faced by the steering committee

Steering committee holds immense importance in directing complex projects toward their objectives. However, they often face obstacles along the way. These range from internal disagreements to a decline in participation, etc. To navigate these challenges and ensure that the project runs smoothly, it is important to identify the most common roadblocks and develop practical solutions to overcome them.

  • Conflicts of interest. When personal ambitions intersect with the best interests of the project, judgments get confused and confidence is lost.

Solution:  build trust, reveal decision-making processes, and foster open dialogue to resolve conflicts.

  • Lack of engagement. Passive involvement and disengaged individuals allow important skills to go untapped, stifling development and innovation.

Solution: assign defined duties and expectations to each member to ensure everyone feels appreciated and contributes with their skills.

  • Communication gaps. Information silos and unclear communication routes cause misunderstanding and hamper collaboration.

Solution:  Keep everyone informed with regular updates, aggressively request input, and resolve problems as soon as possible.

  • Unrealistic expectations. Setting vague goals makes it hard to track progress, leading to a feeling of stagnation and unmet expectations.

Solution: Set specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound goals to create a clear roadmap for achievement.

  • Lack of accountability. When responsibility is dispersed and ownership is unclear, it creates indifference and undermines the project timeline.

Solution: Establish clear ownership of tasks and decisions, empowering board members and holding them accountable for their efforts.

Technologies that the steering committee uses

Executive steering committee relies on a suite of tools to streamline their work and increase productivity. According to an Ernst & Young survey of 400 board directors, 70% of respondents expect more technology innovation in 2023. While email and spreadsheets were once leading, today’s committees prefer more comprehensive alternatives.

Board portals have emerged as a competitive alternative, providing a secure and centralized document repository for agendas, minutes, reports, and other data. This avoids the mess of dispersed emails and missing papers, ensuring that all internal and external stakeholders can access the most up-to-date information. Other than that, board portals have plenty of advantages, among which are information access, centralized communications, and data protection. 

There are several other useful features available, such as:

  • Real-time collaboration. Multiple people can work on a document simultaneously and see changes in real time. It’s ideal for quickly creating and modifying reports, agendas, etc.
  • Version control. Track changes and roll back to earlier versions as needed to ensure everyone has access to the most up-to-date information.
  • Live annotations and discussions. Highlight significant points, ask questions, and participate in real-time discussions from within documents.
  • Task management. Assign tasks to committee members and track their progress to ensure timely completion and accountability.
  • Mobile access. Committee members can access and work on documents via desktop versions, tablets, and mobile devices using board portals from anywhere.
  • Integration with other systems. Connect the board portal to other systems such as calendars, email, and financial tools for consolidated data flow and information.

Executive steering committees deserve a smarter, more secure, and more efficient approach to interact and make significant decisions. We recommend exploring iDeals Board, the board portal that elevates your committee from paper-pushing to a strategic powerhouse.

Tip: If you’d like to see how iDeals Board works, you can request a free demo. It’s a great way to get a firsthand experience of the product before deciding whether to use it.

Key takeaways

  1. The steering committee is designed to provide guidance on project progress. It is composed of key stakeholders, project managers, and senior leadership.
  2. The steering committee work incorporates oversight of project outcomes, its strategic direction, successful performance, and decision-making.
  3. The steering committee typically consists of 6-8 members with diverse expertise and experience. Roles include strategic planning, and policy formulation, developing project frameworks and processes, oversight of project budget, and monitoring progress.

FAQ 

Can you provide examples of successful steering committee outcomes?

A high-performing steering committee can achieve remarkable results, from implementing new systems to exceeding sales targets. If successful, this governing body can navigate a major organizational restructuring while minimizing disruption. Additionally, it can turn around a struggling business unit and restore profitability.

How can readers apply the insights from the article to their organizations?

They can create a diversified, goal-oriented team with defined responsibilities and excellent communication. Organizations can use the potential of board portals to improve communication and decision-making. With proactive solutions, companies can navigate obstacles like disengagement and misplaced expectations. 

Where can I find additional resources for steering committee management?

We have already come across a few resources, including the Project Management Institute (PMI), the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD), and the Harvard Business Review (HBR), which is known to frequently publish insightful articles on project management and committees. In Ivey Business Journal you can find additional materials about the practice of management.