Steering Committee Presentations
Large projects, or projects that are of strategic importance to the sponsoring organization, will frequently be overseen by a Steering Committee. These Steering Committees will be composed of the project’s executive sponsor and other senior executives of the organization, and will need to be updated on the progress of the project. This article contains some tips and tricks for providing the Steering Committee with the information they want, in the form they want it in. Using these tips and tricks should make your presentations run more smoothly and generate some positive traction for your project among the executives on the committee.
What to Present
Present factual information about the current status of the project. The executives on the committee are busy people who manage their individual organizations at the strategic level and they don’t have a lot of time to spend learning the details of the project, so don’t try to force feed them detailed information. As a rule of thumb, you should not present them with more project detail than they are used to seeing in presentations on their own businesses.
A good source of information for your presentation will be your weekly project status report, or project dashboard. This should contain all the information you need to drawn on for your presentation and should be familiar to some of the committee, providing you communicate the status report to everyone on the committee. You just need to take the information in the report and distill it into a presentation that is suitable for your Steering Committee. You will have to start from scratch if you don’t have the weekly status report, or project dashboard, to work with.
Overall Project Progress
The key question your audience will want answered by your presentation is: "Is the project on track?” The first slide or group of slides, in your presentation ought to answer this question. You may want to use a color scheme: green, yellow, and red to indicate overall project health with green indicating healthy, yellow indicating minor deviation to plan, and red indicating major deviation. You can use a number of different visual aids to depict the color, for example you could use a traffic light so long as the key color stands out from the rest.
A simple guideline for determining which color to use to represent your project:
- Green indicates a healthy project so make sure the rest of your slides speak to your project’s health
- Yellow meansyour project is deviating from the plan in some minor way, or ways. You
should always be able to speak to a corrective action that will bring
the project back on track when using this indicator. Don’t go into any
detail at this stage of your report. You can alert your audience that
more details will be provided in a later stage of the presentation.
- Red Never,
ever, use this as an indicator unless the executive sponsor is prepared
for its use. Red means that the project is deviating from the plan in a
major way which you are unable to correct. It is a call to action and a
warning that, unless the Steering Committee takes action the project
will fail to meet its stated goals and objectives.
Even if you are reporting an overall project status of green or yellow, you may want to review the status with the executive sponsor to ensure that they are comfortable with the status.
Your PMO (Project Management Office) or PMC (Project Management Center) may have guidelines for reporting overall project status. These guidelines should indicate the criteria for each of the 3 status. Use these guidelines when they are available, but be sure to communicate the guidelines to the Steering Committee either before your first presentation, or during it.
Project Progress to Schedule and Budget
There are 2 key indicators of a project’s performance available to the project manager: performance to schedule and performance to budget. You may choose to include both these indicators in your report, but if you only choose one, make it performance to schedule. Performance to budget is a great indicator, but can be contentious information unless your audience is familiar with the way in which the project tracks this information, or the data you are using for your report is consistent with the finance department’s view of the project.
Let’s start with the performance to schedule indicator. The most commonly used indicator is the SPI (Schedule Performance Indicator), or some variation on it. This indicator is an Earned Value Management (EVM) formula and is covered in the PMBOK® Guide, 4th Edition. The formula can be stated in several ways but the one I find the easiest to understand is: amount of work actually done/amount of work planned. The amount of work can be stated in many ways, the only hard and fast rule is that the same measure must be used for amount of work actually done and the amount of work planned. The simplest form of measure is a unit of time: man hours, man days, man weeks, etc., although you can actually use a monetary measure. The result of this formula is a number calculated to 1 or 2 decimal places. An SPI of exactly 1.0 means that all the work planned was done, with no extra work being done. It means that the project is on track. An SPI of greater than 1.0 means that more work was actually done than was planned so the project is ahead of schedule. An SPI of less than 1.0 means that less work was actually done than was planned and the project is behind schedule.
The project trend will be of as much interest as the SPI for the current reporting period so use a chart or graph to display a rolling window of SPIs. I prefer a bar chart myself, but you can use a linear graph as well. Make certain that you make the bar representing the SPI for your last presentation stand out, if you are using a chart from a weekly status report for your presentation, so that the Steering Committee can see the trend for the period covered by the current presentation. You may also want to include a trend line to obviate the trend. I would definitely include a line on the 1.0 axis to clearly show the baseline.
Be sure to include any corrective actions you have implemented, or will implement, when the SPI is less than 1.0. You may have agreed upon a variance threshold for the project and will only implement corrective actions when the variance is greater than the threshold. If that’s the case, be sure to include the threshold in your chart or graph, along with the "on track” or 1.0 line. You should describe the corrective action in a sentence or two when you have implemented, or will implement, one. Be certain to communicate the action to your executive sponsor in advance of presenting it to the Steering Committee. You may also wish to include a sentence assessing your perception of the effectiveness of the measure.
Performance to budget is a much trickier metric to represent. It should be a fairly simple matter to extract schedule information from your project tracking tool (MS Project, Primavera, etc.) but typically, these tools are not used to track budget. If your Steering Committee wants this information, there are several different ways of getting at the information you need.
You can use your scheduling tool to report this information, if you capture all expenditures in the tool. Enter each non-labor related expenditure as a deliverable and then enter a number of hours and hourly rate so that when the money is spent the deliverable is marked as 100% complete. When you are dealing with a services vendor who you will be making multiple payments to, enter a deliverable for each payment, with the appropriate number of hours and hourly rate to equal the payment amounts. Enter the loaded labor rate for the various groups of resources on the project. The formula used for performance to budget is the amount of money the project planned to spend to date, and the amount of money actually spent. The amount of money actually spent is simply the hours of work completed times the loaded labor rate for the work. You will have to perform this calculation for each different resource category and sum these totals if your tracking tools don’t do this for you. Report the CPI in the same way you did the SPI.
You will have to be clear about how you are collecting and reporting the information on performance to budget and be prepared to answer some difficult questions when the information you are reporting does not reconcile with the information your accounting department is reporting. One source of discrepancy will be the timing for reporting expenditure. The method I’ve described above reports expenditure when the cost is incurred, but your accounting department may report these expenditures when they are paid, in which case the two amounts will differ.
Another approach to reporting on performance to budget is to simply use the tools and methods your accounting department uses to report this information. There are many different ways of doing this, including simply using an existing report from accounting. Just remember that your objective is to demonstrate the performance to budget of the project in a way that is visually striking and can show trends.
Show the top few risks to the project with this single slide report. The information you need to show here is the risk event, the P/I score (probability, impact) and your mitigation strategy. Although this is not an indicator that is metrics based, you can still use color to communicate additional information about the risk. For example, you may want to show the proximity of the event (the relative proximity of the project phase, deliverable, or task that is at risk) by color coding it: red for now, yellow for the near future, and red for the distant future. Always communicate the criteria for the various colors. You can also indicate whether a mitigation strategy has been implemented or not with a status.
This may or may not form a part of your report. If it forms part of your report, here are some of the metrics you may wish to show:
- Number of change requests received
- Number of change requests accepted
- Number of change requests rejected
- Number of change requests in queue (no decision)
- Amount of cost of accepted change requests (effort or money)
- Amount of cost of accepted change requests vs. total budget/effort
Since you are reporting metrics they will lend themselves to a chart or graph. For example, a pie chart will be useful for communicating the number of accepted change requests vs. the number of rejected requests, or the cost of accepted change requests vs. the project budget.
Use a table to present the top issues affecting the project. Only present one slide with these issues and the issues should be the most significant to the project. Don’t show issues that are closed, or where actions have already been taken to close them. Show the proposed action (if any), the person responsible, and the forecast completion date.
The major milestones completed since the last presentation. These will always include a project phase completed, or gate passed, or phase exited. They may also include the completion of a major deliverable, the engagement of a key vendor, or the passing of a quality milestone. These should be presented in a few slides with only 5 or 6 milestones per slide.
The milestones should have a planned completion date, forecast completion date, and actual completion date to show whether the work was completed to plan or not. Don’t forget that when the schedule baseline changes, the planned date in your presentation will change. Make note of any planned dates changed by an approved change request. Be prepared to explain milestones whose planned dates differ from their forecast or actual dates; this is an indication of project slippage.
These are the project phase completion, gate reviews, and phase exit reviews that will be passed, or should be passed before the next presentation. These dates may include engagements with a key vendor, a quality milestone, or other major milestone or deliverable. Don’t forget to note any planned dates which change due to approved change requests.
These may include some, or all of the categories mentioned in the Major Milestones section, but should also include any personal accomplishments such as the completion of any training, and especially any awards that project team members have been given. Accomplishments are your opportunity to celebrate the project successes with the Steering Committee, make the most of them.
"Other” information may include things like upcoming decisions that need to be presented to the Steering Committee. An upcoming decision could be the selection of a vendor, or a decision on a major change request. Other can also include the presentation of special measures taken to ensure project success. For example, if you are implementing a software development methodology for the build phase of your project, you may wish to devote 1 or 2 slides in your presentation to the explanation of the method and why it was the one selected for this project.
Questions & Answers
Always include a Q & A session as the last agenda item. Your audience should feel free to ask any questions they have on the material being presented to them on the spot, but you should reserve a time for formal Q & A at the end of the meeting so that all questions can be answered before the Steering Committee leaves the meeting. Reserving a period at the end of the meeting will encourage questions that otherwise might not be answered without a formal Q & A session.
How to Present
I won’t attempt to provide instructions on how to present in this article. You should have mastered the fundamentals of presenting using visual aids by the time you reach this point. If you haven’t, you should probably invest in training or have someone who is a seasoned presenter mentor you.
Remember that your audience is comprised of senior executives who tend to be very busy and who want to have a precise overview of the project, not dwell on details. Make the pace of your delivery match the pace of your audience’s day. Try to achieve a brisk tempo, without sounding like a machine gun. This will require you to have your speaking points well thought out in advance. Don’t fill your presentation with long pauses between slides, or due to your forgetting the point you were going to speak to next. You should be familiar enough with the material and the message you want to deliver that you don’t have to script your presentation and memorize lines. Test your delivery style on your peers. They can tell you if you are delivering the material too slowly or too quickly and point out any mannerisms in your delivery that might be annoying.
Do not read the slides. Your audio presentation should communicate information not to be found in the slide. Slides that communicate their information via charts or graphs require you to provide information not to be found there by virtue of their lack of text. Slides that depend on text to communicate their information will require you to provide information not found in the text, or at least to expand on the text.
You may choose to highlight one or two bullets or items per slide and only speak to those items. This is an ideal way to increase the pace of your presentation without having to speak rapidly and risk not speaking clearly.
Don’t hog the limelight if you are presenting to an audience in a meeting room. Your slides should be the star of the show and you should play the same role as the "voice over” in a commercial. Do not walk in front of the projector obscuring your audience’s view of the slide being projected, don’t pace back and forth, and don’t be overly active with you hands. Point features of interest out on charts and graphs and the bullet or item you are speaking to on slides containing text, but don’t turn your back on your audience for extended periods while doing so.
Where to Present
Choose a room that your Steering Committee will fit into comfortably. Choose the boardroom, if that room is an option and will hold all the members of the Steering Committee. Be prepared for Committee members joining the call remotely by ensuring you have an audio phone device in the room, such as a Polycom, and ensure you have a working audio bridge. This will allow Committee members who are on the road and want to be updated on the project status, to join the meeting.
Select an appropriate audio/video tool to use when your Steering Committee members are geographically dispersed. These days there is a technical solution to suit every budget and need so choose one that meets your project’s needs and which your project budget can afford. Remember that your audience must be properly equipped in order for the technology to work properly. Tools such as GotoMeeting only require the downloading of freeware for the tool to work. Other audio/video tools may require the remote site to have a camera and projector in the room in order to work. Your organization may already have this equipment, or a range of equipment, at your disposal. Start your search with what your organization already has available. If the equipment available to you will not meet the needs of your Steering Committee get your executive sponsor to support the requisition of the tools you need.
The Executive Summary
One way of giving each Committee member the amount of information they need and have time to listen to is to summarize your presentation in 3 or 4 slides and review these before your presentation. Summarize by condensing the slide contents. For example, include the overall project status with the Schedule Performance Index slide and don’t include the slides reporting performance to budget. You can also summarize by choosing one slide worth of completing work and one slides worth of upcoming work. Leave risks and issues out altogether, or limit them to 1 slide for both. Choose one or two outstanding achievements to include in the summary and leave the rest for the detailed presentation.
The necessity for an Executive Summary very much depends on your Steering Committee. You may have a small Steering Committee where everyone will set aside the time to attend your full presentation. Projects which are larger and of more strategic importance to the entire company will tend to have larger Steering Committees which is when you may wish to explore the possibility of giving the Executive Summary first and allowing those Committee members who cannot attend the complete session a chance to receive their update and ask any questions they may have.
This article contains some tips and tricks which are very specific to communications with your project’s Steering Committee. To learn more about project communications in general you should study sources such as the PMBOK® Guide 4th Edition. You may also want to become a certified Project Management Professional (PMP®). three O Project Solutions offers a cost effective way to ensure you pass the PMP® exam: AceIt©. You can learn more about the certification process by visiting our certification section at: http://threeo.ca/pmpcertifications29.php. To find out more about AceIt©, visit: http://threeo.ca/aceit-features-c1288.php