Project steering committee membership

Text Box: Board membership characteristics
For effective board performance, individual members and the board as a group need to have a broad range of skills, expertise and personal attributes. Accountability, strategic thinking, networking and teamwork are core competencies for all types of boards and committees. It may also be desirable to appoint board members with specific expertise in areas such as finance, investment, law, human resources, marketing or public sector administration. A board may include persons with superior knowledge of the particular sector and who may have valuable professional networks (though care should be taken to avoid potential conflicts of interest). Members, however, should not be appointed solely on the basis of functional expertise. Appropriate emphasis should also be placed on the skills and personal attributes required for effective board performance.

The right people must be involved for project steering committees to work effectively and the size of the committee membership needs to be fit for purpose. Individuals with the necessary leadership and management skills, knowledge and attributes should be selected for project steering committee membership. Members may maintain membership of a project steering committee even if their role within the organisation changes. In some instances it may be appropriate to include specific expertise on the steering committee during particular phases of the project lifecycle, for example, a design expert in the early phases of a project. These parameters are consistent with guidance for general board membership set out below.

Appendix 3 assists with establishing a steering committee from a process perspective. The project steering committee should take a balanced view of stakeholder requirements, the availability of resources and the need to meet project objectives. Representatives of important stakeholder groups could also be considered for inclusion on the steering committee where they have a significant interest or control a relevant resource.

Principle 3.  Separate project decision making from stakeholder management.

A large project steering committee can be a sign that too many stakeholders have been included and the meeting become used as a mechanism for information gathering and stakeholder management. If the steering committee meetings are routinely used by attendees simply to update themselves on the project’s progress they risk being distracted from their fundamental role of effective investment decision making.[1]

(Note: Care should be taken to avoid inappropriate distortions that the inclusion of some stakeholders and not others might create, for example where those members represent their vested interest and don’t take whole of project decisions. Remember principle 3.)

The opportunity for stakeholder input can be provided through a stakeholder advisory group. To help ensure that the project steering committee takes responsibility for whole-of-government issues members from outside the organisation can be included, for example, independent experts, other relevant departments or agencies such as central agencies.

To enable effective management of projects, continuity of project steering committee membership throughout a project lifecycle is preferred as this maintains the ongoing chain of responsibility and continuity of knowledge. In some instances the need for specific skills may support some changes in membership. Governance arrangements may change once the project is delivered and the investment moves into the operational phase, noting this shift may be to the organisation’s overarching governance arrangement.

As noted previously, the HVHR process requires more active DTF/DPC involvement in the project approval and delivery process and more rigorous monitoring of the project. This will generally involve participation in steering committees, determined on a risk assessed basis.

Project steering committee responsibilities

Swatting flies and watching for elephants!

The project steering committee operates within predefined terms of reference specific to the governance needs of a project. These specify membership obligations, regularity of meetings, operational details (e.g. management of conflict of interest), decision-making powers, dealing with issues out of session and the escalation of issues to a higher corporate committee, the Minister or the government if required.

The project steering committee is responsible for high level resourcing decisions that are essential to the delivery of project outputs and the attainment of investment outcomes. It is also responsible for ensuring appropriate management of project components outlined in the project management plan.[2] In particular, the project steering committee is responsible for risk and issue management.

Governments consider the public interest in all investment evaluation decisions and subsequent project procurement decisions. Once a project is approved for delivery the project steering committee needs to assess and maintain oversight of public interest matters. Considering public interest matters such as access, accountability and consumer rights is an important part of the planning and project development. Ongoing monitoring of public interest matters during procurement and implementation will be useful in ensuring that the project continues to be in the public interest.

The tasks of the project steering committee will typically include:

·      providing overall strategic guidance for the project and project assurance;

·      responsibility for the project’s feasibility, business plan and realisation of outcomes/benefits;

·      approving the appointment of, and providing advice, support and direction to the project manager/director;

·      ensuring probity;

·      endorsing the project management plan and major subsidiary documents relating to the project;

·      oversighting the risk management process and management of risk within the project including viable contingency plans or fall-back strategies which are regularly updated;

·      ensuring that the State has commercial options and flexibility to suspend or terminate failing projects;

–      The ability to suspend or terminate contracts at given points may result in a higher base cost but the ability effectively de-risks the project. Like insurance it is a cost worth paying if you need to call on it.

·      ensuring the project is ‘fit for market’ prior to engaging with suppliers;

·      setting the delegation and monitoring of project tolerances for time, quality and cost as well as escalating when necessary;

·      authorising any major deviations from the agreed scope, budget and schedule within tolerances including (if appropriate) approval (or recommendation) for expenditure of contingency and risk based budget;

·      identifying need for strategic intervention, including termination, where appropriate;

·      signing off the completion of each project phase, including the deliverables, and giving approval to start a subsequent phase;

·      overseeing the communication of information about the project to stakeholder groups as necessary;

·      resolving conflicts between the project team, asset managers and suppliers, or escalating issues that have significant implications for the project;

·      closing the project after successful delivery, including lessons learnt and document finalisation;

·      endorsing reports on project progress to other people or groups; for example, a client entity or the leadership team; and

·      taking responsibility for any whole-of-government issues associated with the project.



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