26 October 2011

Seven simple rules leading to successful Steering Committees

In my previous blog-spot I presented my views on how to put together the optimal Steering Committee (SteerCo). The main message was that very many SteerCos are put together for the wrong reasons and with the wrong participants. The only valid reason for having a SteerCo is if there is an ongoing stream of "steering" (usually a combination of decision-making on complex, company-broad issues and quality control from a company-broad perspective) throughout the project (and not only at the end). The participants should be chosen with these goals in mind, and should be the lowest-ranking people that can make the decisions that are needed.

Assuming that you have put together the optimal SteerCo, the next question is how you can make best use of it during the project itself (how to deal with the SteerCo at the end of project will be the subject of a separate blog-spot). The following rules will help you make the most of your SteerCo meetings:

1.    Inform the participants at the start of the project about what you want from them. This may have been done as part of the process leading to the choice of SteerCo members, but is still worthwhile doing again. In an individual face-to-face meeting (before the first official SteerCo meeting) explain to each member of the SteerCo about the project, the role of the SteerCo, and why the individual has been requested / chosen to sit in the SteerCo

2.    Plan and schedule regular SteerCo meetings (and meeting rooms). Most people have very busy diaries and it can be very difficult to schedule a meeting involving several key managers. The best solution is therefore to schedule all expected SteerCo meetings already at the start of the project. Where possible, these meetings should be linked to key milestones and expected issues where input from the SteerCo will be needed. Sometimes it makes more sense to plan regular meetings (monthly/bi-weekly/weekly depending on the heartbeat of the project and the number of expected issues that the SteerCo will need to deal with). When scheduling these meetings, promise that you will cancel them if the meeting is not required.

3.    Plan each meeting well in advance. Find out if you have issues/decisions that need SteerCo attention. If this is not the case, then cancel the meeting. This will save you and the project considerable time, and will give you goodwill from your SteerCo members. The agenda and key issues to be discussed should be communicated to the SteerCo as early as possible so that they can prepare. In some companies where I have worked, there has been a requirement to send out the presentation to be used in the meeting. This has never been my preference, as it tends to lead to disjointed and unstructured discussions in the meeting itself. However, if this is the culture, then you do not have a choice.

4.    Make sure that the meeting room is available and that all the technical stuff (PC, beamer, etc) works. This is a bit of a "no-brainer", but, believe me; I have experienced all of this happening.

5.    Start the meeting by presenting the agenda and agreeing the planning and time allocation (especially important if one or more people need to leave early).

6.    Present your material in a structured and clear manner, and clearly specify what the issue/problem is, what the alternatives are, and what decision you are requesting. Make sure that a decision is given. If the SteerCo is not able to give a decision, agree what concrete steps need to be taken in order for a decision to be made

7.    Send out minutes of the meeting as quickly as possible (the next day at the latest). The minutes should be as short as possible, and if you can agree and use a standard structure, so much the better. The content should be limited to key decisions and a log of agreed action points. The minutes are extremely important as they provide a written record of decisions made, thereby ensuring that everybody has the same recollection of these decisions. The action log gives a written overview of the agreed "to-do's". This helps you and project team remember what needs to be done, and can also help in pushing SteerCo members to carry out activities given to them

If you have put together an optimal SteerCo and follow these fairly simple rules, then your SteerCo should play a valuable role in your project. Unfortunately, there are still a number of things that can go wrong. These will be discussed in a later update.