Project steering committee

Successful delivery of project outcomes requires that steering committee members understand the business context being addressed by the investment, including the operational and associated whole-of-life impact factors. Their focus needs to extend beyond the project to embrace the broader context as described in Figure 6. They must ensure key stakeholders are informed and committed as the project progresses. The committee also needs to proactively monitor, mentor, challenge and support the project manager and team on the project’s progress: asking the right questions, offering alternatives and making timely decisions.

Figure 6 The broader project governance focus                        

Note: In governance models the terms project steering committee, project control board or project board are used interchangeably. For more complex investments an overall project control board may be established with subcommittees (project steering committees) that deal with individual project elements.

The important thing is to ensure the roles and responsibilities of the entities are clearly defined, understood and accepted by members.

Text Box: Opinions on the job of project steering committees
A Project Board (or steering committee) provides the required level of management direction and decision making. It should have clear responsibilities, for directing the project and defining how the project should interface with programmes and other work in the organisation. The chair of the steering committee will (normally) be the project’s SRO (sponsor).a
The job of the project steering committee (Project Governance Board) is not to merely receive a report on progress from a project manager and record in the minutes it has been noted, but rather it must ensure that the project is still going to achieve its intended outcome. To do this the project steering committee must ask searching questions and be capable of assessing the quality of the answers provided by management. To do this boards need the right people, with the right mix of skill, to understand and perform their duties of directing and controlling projects to ensure that those projects that can succeed are successful, but have the authority to be able to shut down projects that can no longer deliver the intended outcomes.b

Six key questions for project steering committees to regularly consider are set out below. It is preferable that wherever possible, decisions are reached through consensus of the project steering committee. The chair should seek to achieve this end. However, the ultimate decision maker is the project sponsor, the individual who is accountable for the successful delivery of the project and the achievement of value to the organisation.

Text Box: The Six Key Questions for every Governance Team
1. Are we on track – to plan/schedule? (Includes both on and off project activities.)
If not, why not?
How will any delays impact the plan/schedule/critical path?
What are you planning to do about it?
What do we need to do about it?
2. What decisions need to be made? (Includes required business decisions and escalation issues.)
What decisions need to be made/action taken – and why?
Do we have sufficient information on the options and their implications?
When do we need to make a final decision?
What are the downstream impacts if we get this decision wrong?
3. What issues are there – inside or outside the project? (Includes required inter-dependency 
      issues, resource issues, proposed scope changes.)
Are they increasing or decreasing in number?
How are these changes impacting the project?
How will they impact the business outcomes/benefits?
Is the project still under control?
4. Are we on track – to budget and benefits plans? (Includes expenditure, financial commitments,
     AND benefit value driver changes and benefits realized to date.)
If not, why not?
How will any shortfalls/overspends impact the budget/benefits/overall net cost?
What are you planning to do about it?
What do we need to do about it?
5. Has the achievability of the project changed? (Includes project, benefits delivery and business 
     impact risks and critical success factors status.)
Have any changes improved or endangered the project?
If endangered, what is the root cause?
Are the risks’ likelihood/criticality assessments appropriate?
What mitigation action is planned? How will this address/mitigate the risk?
Are the risks being actively managed?
What do we need to do about any remaining risks?
6. Can we still successfully deliver the project AND its business outcomes and benefits? 
    (Includes resources, funds, skills, risks and time to deliver and benefits value/availability)
What is threatening our success?
What is threatening the viability of the project?
Are any of these factors manageable?
Has any expected reduction in value be compensated for with reduced costs? If not, why not?
Would the funds/resources be better allocated to another project?
Why should we continue?

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