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The Project Steering Committee

"Before we discuss the project office, we need to step back and look at the role of the primary group that provides direction to the extended project team - the project steering committee. It's now time for this group of senior executives to share their wisdom and knowledge, exert their influence and authority and apply good business sense to guide the project. In the beginning of the project restart, the steering committee should meet at least biweekly until they are assured the project is back on track."

Politics...Politics...Politics: Who Belongs on the Steering Committee

"Recruiting the right people to serve on the project steering committee may itself be a significant challenge. Depending on your project's visibility, reputation and depth of trouble, you may find people running away as fast as possible to avoid being associated with the 'dog with fleas'. This is the time to exhaust all of our options to obtain the right people. Whether you need to sell or tell, do what you must to get the right team. The following executives should be part of your steering committee:
  • Project executive sponsor  May be the committee chair.
  • Project sponsor  Works with the project manager to provide information on project progress.
  • Technical organization leader  Whether CIO, Vice President of Engineering, Head of the Department of Works, or some other organization, this person's participation is crucial. This executive controls the technical resources and should be part of the decision making process when there is a need to commit more technical staff to the project. This person can also help provide executive support to the project manager.
  • Project manager  If not the committee chair, this person is the main source of informaiton on project progress.
  • Project officer  As leader of the quality assurance function, this executive will be functioning as the project management coach and mentor. This person provides an unbiased opinion of the project's status and overall risk.
  • Finance and accounting executive  This executive helps with the acquisition of additional capital when needed. This person provides financial controls and guidelines to be used by the restarted project and monitors adherence to them.
  • External service provider executive  If you are utilizing an external service provider, especially if you are outsourcing some pieces or the entire project, this executive plays a role similar to the technical organization leader from an external perspective."

Do the Right Things

"Once you successfully pull the team together (congratulations!) you have to establish guiding principles for that team to operate effectively. As you can see from the preceding roster, there will be many agendas. Most likely, these agendas will conflict if left unmanaged. You will need to codify those guiding principles and keep them prominently displayed at all project steering committee meetings. Your guiding primciples should reflect the culture of your company, but a few transcend all companies:
  • We're doing this project because...  This open ended question should be kept foremost in the minds of the project team members when trying to decide if they are doing the right things. The answers are found in the project goals and objectives right out of the project charter.
  • To do this project well we need to...  This is another question used to guide the actions of the project team members. Look to the project charter and the critical success factors for its answers.
  • Be prepared  There will be a lot of information to be read and understood, Committee members must commit to doing their 'homework' and come to committee meetings prepared and ready for action.
  • Stay engaged  This assignment will be hard work, especially if the runaway project is severely astray. 'Committee' starts with 'commit'. Each member must be prepared to provide the necessary attention over a long period of time. The project did not just go off track in a day. It took a long time to get where you are and it will take a long time to get the project back on the right track.

"If you cannot get the right people to give you the necessary commitments, you should reconsider whether this project is truly needed. A lack of executive sponsorship is a sure symptom of a project that will die."
The above is an excerpt from a book written by Sanjiv Purba and Joseph Zucchero, published by McGraw-Hill/Osborne, 2100 Powell Street, 10th Floor, Emeryville, California 94608 U.S.A. Sanjiv has over 20 years of experience managing large projects and many years engaged in rescuing ailing projects.