What Is A Steering Committee & Why Do You Need One?
October 17th, 2022 (Updated 03/09/2023) | 11 min. read
Implementing new projects can be challenging. It’s essential not only that the project’s outputs meet the needs of key stakeholders, but that its outcomes meet the overall objectives of the company.
However, setting a clear direction for the project is easier said than done—let alone keeping to it. Bottleneck, delays, resource limitations, conflicts, unbalanced workloads, and malalignment of collaborators can send a project way off track and far beyond the deadline. With so many moving parts… it’s no wonder so many fail.
At Pricefx, we have over a decade of experience advising project leaders on which key internal resources they need to successfully complete a pricing implementation project and on the importance of having a steering committee.
In this article, we’ll explore exactly what a steering committee is, what its key role is, who makes it up, and why it is crucial to ensuring a project stays on track to meet its goals.
What Is A Steering Committee?
A steering committee is a group of high-level advisors (usually part of a company’s sales, marketing and value governance) that makes directional decisions on projects to ensure they align with business goals and objectives. The IT team usually plays a role in the project team.
While the committee may help build the business case for a project, its members do not usually work on it directly, but rather work at a level above the project team. Members will set the strategic direction of the project and help to steer it from start to finish; resolving any issues or conflicts, removing obstacles, and giving final approvals.
What Does a Steering Committee Do?
The steering committee’s overall role is to set the direction of a project and to provide guidance and advice to project managers in order to ensure successful delivery of project outputs and attainment of project outcomes.
It is therefore concerned with the direction, timeliness, and budget of the projects they steer and will meet regularly to monitor progress and ensure all these elements are on track. It will establish project goals and determine how to measure and determine when the goal has been met.
Members of the steering committee should therefore have a broad understanding of project management issues and fully understand the project’s intended outcomes and how they will benefit the business. They should be an advocate for the project and foster positive communication about its progress and outcomes to the wider organization.
Members will also develop policies and governance procedures for the project and monitor processes, plans, viability, and quality. They can identify and eliminate project or business risks and may prioritize or reprioritize deliverables to ensure overall project success. Any proposed changes to the project scope would have to be approved by the committee to ensure they align with the project’s goals.
For the duration of the project, the committee will provide expert strategy experience, advising the road from budgeting to assets, facilities to timeframes, and hiring to marketing. In fact, they will also help select appropriate managers and experts to support the project and will help resolve conflicts between parties.
Once the project has been completed, members will evaluate the entire process of developing and implementing the project, actively promote its outputs, and measure its impact on its intended audience.
So, in a nutshell, the Steering Committee is responsible for:
- Establishing the goals of a project
- Setting direction and strategies
- Defining measurement of success
- Making senior-level decisions, including selecting project managers
- Providing expertise advice on a wide range of concerns related to the project
- Monitoring project progress, processes, plans and quality
- Approving or rejecting project plans and changes to them
- Resolving any conflict between parties and removing road blocks to progress
- Advocating for and promoting the project and its outputs/outcomes
Who Should Be on The Steering Committee?
The matter of who should be on a Steering Committee should be considered carefully. They should be of value to the project team, not an interference. Members will usually be people who are able to lend specialist expertise or whose team is the intended audience of its output. This might include board members, senior internal stakeholders, external stakeholders, subject matter experts, executives, and the project manager. It is also very beneficial to include at least one intended user of the project output on the committee, as their opinions and insights can be essential to ensuring that the project is correctly targeted.
Ideally, a steering committee would have a diverse membership, with members equally representing its various functions. Members should be able to provide insight to the project team and should have the power to make quick decisions and to clear roadblocks.
A steering committee will almost always include someone at the C-level, depending on the size of the organization. And it should always have a chairperson: someone elected by the rest of the committee. This should not, however be the owner of the project because the chairman needs to have a certain level of objectivity to avoid conflicts.
When working with a software vendor on implementing a new solution, it’s best to have someone on the vendor side (like a solution manager or director) on your steering committee. Not only will they oversee the project on their end, but they will bring a wealth of in-depth solution expertise to the project overall. Providing at least one such expert is something we provide by default at Pricefx to help ensure fastest time to value and optimized outcomes.
Here’s a list of all the roles we recommend our clients have on their pricing software implementation.
To sum up, a steering committee should consist of stakeholders and representatives from departments with a significant stake in the project’s success:
- C-suite executives
- Heads of cross-functional teams (IT, sales, finance, product, marketing, legal)
- Subject matter experts
- Senior employees with project management expertise
- Independent external experts (quality consultants, lead auditors, etc.)
What Roles Do Individual Members Perform?
Everyone on the steering committee plays an important role and should be hands on in the project’s success. Here are some roles often found on steering committees:
- Executive Sponsor (or Chair): Every project requires a leader who is dedicated to ensuring it is a success. This is typically someone at the VP or C level of an organization who has the ability to navigate the business, authorize budget spending, allocate resources, handle conflicts, and remove any obstacles. The Executive Sponsor (or Chair) will provide overall guidance and direction to the project team and collaborate with other committee members to make senior-level decisions about the project. Typically, our customers find their Executive Sponsor in finance, sales, pricing teams or even the CEO—the most important thing is that they understand the true value of the project’s outputs and outcomes and is eager and able to put the weight and support of the organization behind its success.
- Senior Supplier: This might be someone from IT or depending on how your company is structured, it could be the person who leads the pricing department or even an external stakeholder. Their role is to ensure the correct manpower and budget is allocated to the project and that standards are being met. The project plan and viability of desired outcomes under the constraints of the budget are their responsibility.
- Business Manager: This person should be able to view the project through the lens of the overall business (usually a Senior Pricing Manager) in order to determine whether it meets business objectives and that the costs are justified. They will be responsible for the interactions with project manager.
- Project Manager: Your Project Manager manages the overall coordination of the project, ensuring each team member is aware of their roles and responsibilities and that each task is executed in a synchronized and timely manner. While not technically part of the Steering Committee, the project manager will normally sit on meetings to report on progress and answer any questions, acting as a bridge between those responsible for executing the project and those steering it. On Pricefx implementations, we usually recommend this person be a seasoned IT professional, as integration with existing systems will likely be required. They should work closely with end users to ensure the project outputs are aligned with their needs.An IT Project Manager will take the lead of the solution engineers as well as the time, budget and scope elements of your project.
- Senior User: It is important to have someone that represents the group for which the project is being implemented on the steering committee to ensure that its deliverables align with the user requirements.
Top Tips for Steering Committee Success
Here are a few tips for ensuring your Steering Committee is a valuable resource to your projects and not an obstruction.
1. Choose the right people
Members should have a stake in the project and should be keen to see it succeed. They should have good decision-making abilities and be able to work in a team.
Careful not to make your team too small or too large; it should be just big enough to ensure essential departments are represented, but small enough to enable fast decision making. Large committees can hinder efficiency. Somewhere between 6 and 10 members is a good size.
Remember that personality does matter. And while bringing together different people fosters teamwork and ensures many voices are heard, it can also bring personality conflicts that become hindrances. Senior leaders may be tempted to take a stronger hand in decision-making roles than mid-level managers. Conflicts and competing interests can stand in the way of project success.
If senior leaders’ resort to bargaining for features/ tools/ benefits that meet their own specific needs, parameters should be put in place that limit how long such discussions can last. Have everything pinned down as early as possible.
2. Setting well-defined goals and expectations
Make sure the team clearly understands the business’ objectives and how the project supports them. Members should clearly understand the budget, the scope of the project, the processes to be employed and the timeline for implementation. The success of a Steering Committee is in each member being actively involved, giving their opinions, voicing their concerns, and contributing to decisions. Define parameters for decision-making length to ensure efficiency of the project and to free members’ time up for their other work.
3. Clear communication is key
Make sure everyone on the committee and project team is on the same page regarding the plan, processes, parameters and timelines. Keep everyone in the loop through debriefs and regular meetings, however it’s important to strike the balance between well-informed and bombarded. Ensure only senior-level queries or issues that require Steering Committee input are sent to them. Sending agendas ahead of meetings can help expedite proceedings and ensure that critical issues are addressed. Meetings should have clear goals and allow for open discussion and the sharing of different opinions and ideas. But while meetings should be regular, too many can hinder progress, as the project team is put on hold while it waits for decisions at each stage.
Ensure Goals Are Met with a Steering Committee
A steering committee plays a very important role in a project’s success. It brings value by ensuring projects are kept on track, providing guidance and expert advice, and helping to identify and mitigate risks. However, ensuring your committee is of value to the Project Manager, and not an extra hurdle for them to jump though is a delicate balancing act.
Keep your steering committee small but comprehensive. It should be comprised of those with appropriate expertise, stakes, and authority to really make a positive impact. Members should be willing and eager to voice their ideas and raise their concerns. Meetings should be well-organized to support efficiency, with clear agendas and limited decision-making time. And don’t forget to bring in a senior end user to ensure you’re meeting actual needs.
Done right, a steering committee can add huge value to the implementation of a new project, leading to faster time to value, coming in on budget, efficient use of resources, on-point outputs and desired outcomes.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to ensure project success, then click on the article link below to learn more;