I once attended the first ‘steering committee meeting’ for a ‘project’. There were 18 attendees. The meeting took 2.5 hours, including morning tea. The agenda was vague, the participants unprepared and the outcome predictable. There was a wide-ranging discussion and everyone had a say. There were two agreements at the end of the meeting:
- There should be another meeting
- Lunch should be ordered next time
I don’t know what the lunch was like because I resigned from the committee within 30 minutes of that first meeting. It wasn’t a steering group – it was a tea party.
How do you govern a project?
A project is a discrete piece of work with defined resources and timeframe. It needs to be run like that. A project brings a bunch of people with conflicting agendas together long enough to create something that meets a business goal. That means a project needs a dedicated governance body to keep it on track. It may be called a steering committee, a steering group, a project board or something else. I like “Project Board” because it is simple and the name makes it clear that it’s about governance. I will use Project Board, translate that into whatever term you use. Project governance requires a clear focus and so does a Project Board.
How do you set up a Project Board?
The Project Board can’t have focus if it includes everyone who might have an interest in the project to keep them happy. Typically the Project Board should have 3-7 members, depending on the size of the project or programme. The Project Board exists to advise the Project Sponsor but the Project Sponsor makes the final decisions. It is usually made up of key internal executives and an independent advisor. It reviews project progress and monitors risk and opportunity.
A committee that includes everyone who has an interest is a stakeholder reference group. You might need one of those too – or even more than one for different types of stakeholders. Do not confuse project governance with stakeholder engagement. We will cover that issue in a separate post.
Tips for successful Project Governance
A Charter establishes the Project Board and provides a terms of reference. A Project Board Charter has some simple elements. Email us for a more complete list.
- Project Board members
- Project Purpose
- Level of commitment