August 22, 2017

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Project management advice, tips, tools and recommended resources for existing and aspiring project managers.

10 Principles for Effective Steercom Meetings

By Liz Dewing

Steering Committee effectiveness is achieved by keeping things: Sufficient, Objective, and Succinct (SOS)!

An Executive Sponsor’s worst nightmare is to be surprised by a development on a project….. particularly if that surprise occurs in a public forum when they haven’t had the opportunity to prepare themselves. One way to avoid surprises is to maximize the effectiveness of Steering Committees.

What are the needs

Executive needs are relatively straightforward:

  • To be kept up-to-speed on progress in general and security of benefits in particular.
  • To be informed about specific issues or obstacles that are hindering progress (and any significant risks threatening to materialize.)
  • Opportunity to collectively discuss and determine what actions can be taken to address these – with the RIGHT people at the RIGHT time.
  • To inform the project about anything forthcoming that may affect the work / require changes.
  • To achieve this in the least possible time.

On the other hand Project Teams need:

  • Decisions and Actions and commitment to doing it.
  • Information – to help move things along.
  • Guidance – about things they may not know with their limited organizational view.

Regular one-on-ones between the Sponsor and Project Manager can address the bulk of these needs. Where Steering Committee Meetings add real value is when robust collaborative discussion is needed amongst invested leaders who may have differing perspectives and agendas but who must arrive at mutually acceptable decisions in order for work to progress.

Ten Key Principles

Here are 10 key principles to support really effective Steercoms.

#1 Keep the attendee as limited as possible

Only those people who have designated authority to make things happen should attend Steercoms… they are NOT a place for people who simply need to be kept informed.

#2 Avoid repetition

Finalise Minutes and address and resolve actions from previous meetings BEFORE the next Steering Committee. Anything that remains unresolved can be discussed as an Issue.

#3 Avoid revisiting things

If a topic is coming up at Steercom over and over again it is an indication that there is an underlying issue that is NOT being adequately addressed. Identify it. Express it clearly, and escalate it.

#4 Keep an action focus

Make it easy for the Steercom members to make decisions by providing sufficient relevant information in the right formats and be very explicit about what is expected.

NOTE : Make sure the group understand the difference between discussion and decision. Many Steering Committees discuss things at length but fail to ever actually formalize a clear decision as a result.

#5 Keep the ‘routine’ consistent and predictable

Following a consistent process and format using a consistent process, format and tools, allows members to focus on content with full attention.

#6 Make sure mechanisms that are used are understood

For Example – Red / Amber / Green statuses are often interpreted very differently by different people.

#7 Celebrate achievement

This is so that successes become part of the routine as well as challenges – Steercoms that focus purely on problem-solving are very draining!

#8 Always be fully prepared

Minutes circulated and approved, progress on actions up-to-date and distributed for review, a detailed agenda and any pre-reading required sent out in advance, and an up-to-date dashboard available for review. Being prepared also means the Sponsor has had a briefing ahead of time and knows what to expect in terms of content AND potential for conflict.

Build a culture of preparedness and lead by example.

#9 Insist on Ownership from the Steering Committee members

A Project Manager is a Facilitator of outcomes, not an Owner. The Executive and Business Owners are the ones who need to live with, derive benefit from and continue to operate the outcomes of a project, so they must take responsibility for ensuring what is delivered WILL meet their needs.

#10 Steercom SOS

Remember that Steering Committee effectiveness is achieved by keeping things: Sufficient, Objective, and Succinct!

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Liz Dewing-Magnetic NorthAbout the Author: Liz Dewing has an extensive career in IT, Project and Project Office Management with various organisations, including 13 years with Old Mutual South Africa. After 8 years running a Strategy Delivery Project Office for the OM Mass Market division, Liz left to focus on Magnetic North – a Consultancy through which she helps people to use their powers of speech more effectively in business and career.

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