Managing projects can be complex. Addressing dynamic business needs, prioritizing limited resources, and balancing team workloads can lead to many moving parts. Having high-level support and guidance can be a life-saver. That’s exactly what steering committees do.

Project management steering committees provide executive support and solve problems to ensure projects stay on track to meet their goals. But what is a steering committee? Let’s find out more about steering committees and how they can help in project management.

What is a steering committee?

A steering committee is a governing body of key stakeholders tasked with overseeing and supporting a project to ensure the attainment of its goals.

Project steering committees are commonly known as stakeholder boards, senior leadership teams, project working groups, or project oversight committees.

They oversee projects from start to finish and provide guidance and support throughout the project lifecycle.

Who is included in a steering committee?

A steering committee includes stakeholders and representatives from departments with a significant stake in the project’s success, including:

  • C-suite executives such as the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Chief Technical Officer (CTO), or Chief Operating Officer (CEO)
  • Heads of the varied cross-functional teams such as IT, sales, product, marketing, legal, and finance
  • Subject matter experts from various internal departments
  • Senior employees with substantial project management expertise
  • Independent external representatives such as quality consultants, lead auditors, or representatives from other agencies or organizations

What is the purpose of a steering committee?

Project teams focus on daily project tasks and milestones. When project managers are present, why do projects need external steering? So, what is the purpose of a steering committee?

Research has found that steering committees are a widely popular, mature, and accepted IT management practice. More than 80% of IT companies have steering committees, and 69% make full use of them. 

When companies establish steering committees, they mitigate risks, check budgets, resolve conflicts, and keep projects on track. That’s immense value considering all this advisory support happens above the regular project team operations.

Key roles and responsibilities of a steering committee

A steering committee is an advisory group helps project teams set direction, scope, goals, budgets, and timelines.

Here are the key roles and responsibilities of a steering committee in project management:

  • Advocate for existing and new project initiatives within the company
  • Provide counsel on project resource utilization, deadlines, staff hiring, and marketing needs
  • Guide the project team in accomplishing milestones according to the project plan
  • Determine overall project scope and strategic project direction
  • Finalize project monitoring KPIs to measure successful performance
  • Regulate incoming project requests, validate them, and approve or reject their inclusion in project plans
  • Identify the right staff, project managers, and subject matter experts to work on projects
  • Prioritize project milestones and pivot as required
  • Oversee project collaboration and resolve conflicts amongst teams
  • Brainstorm project strategy and innovative ideas to solve end-user problems
  • Review project progress and support in minimizing obstacles that can threaten project outcomes
  • Foster positive and timely communication about project progress to senior leadership, investors, and other relevant stakeholders

What should be included in a project steering committee charter?

Simply getting a group of people together and labeling them a steering committee will not work. They will need clear direction, an action plan, and the right resources to support project teams.

Creating a project steering committee charter can be helpful in this scenario. A steering committee charter is an actionable roadmap that defines the core vision, direction, and operations of the committee. It defines how the committee will work to support project teams and outlines its creation and operation.

Here is a list of items that should be included in a project steering committee charter:

  1. The broad vision of the project and the core purpose of setting up the committee
  2. The jurisdiction of the committee, whether it is for one project or a portfolio of projects
  3. The authority of the committee and whether it will provide strategic direction or play an advisory role in the project
  4. Committee formation rules, including the basic criteria for choosing members
  5. Overall deliverables, including directives on committee decisions, opinions, and analysis

Creating a clear steering committee charter boosts its efficiency, minimizes conflicts, and sets the right expectations for all members.

How often should a steering committee meeting be held?

The duration and frequency of project management steering committee meetings depend on the complexity, size, and scope of the project. However, as a benchmark, the meetings should be held after specific project milestones so that progress can be clearly identified.

Randomly scheduling committee meetings for certain days in a month may not be quite helpful. For example, if the next project milestone is “Preparing the content creation calendar,” the forthcoming steering committee meeting should be held after that milestone is complete.

Doing this will also help you track progress from one meeting to another while ensuring optimal utilization of team and project resources.

How to prepare for your project steering committee meeting

Before the scheduled steering committee meeting, important information and documentation must be shared with all committee members, including:

  • Meeting agenda
  • Minutes of the previous steering committee meeting
  • Project progress report from the project manager

Certain team members should be responsible for generating steering committee meeting documentation and meeting schedule notifications.

The steering committee is formed with a chairperson who conducts the meeting as per the predetermined agenda. They also ensure all committee members share their perspectives and opinions on the matter at hand.

A basic meeting agenda would include:

  • Acknowledging the minutes of the previous steering committee meeting and sharing them with other committee members
  • Conducting an in-depth review of action items decided in past meetings
  • Tabling a report on the status of the project as submitted by the project manager
  • Holding a detailed discussion on any other matters of concern or project requests
  • Finalizing the date, time, and venue of the next project management steering committee meeting

Steering committee best practices for project success

Whether you’re holding your steering committee meeting online or in person, consider these steering committee best practices for project success:

  1. Give the project team and committee members enough time to prepare.
  2. Focus on the most relevant project KPIs and milestones and provide this to the committee members in a mutually-agreeable format — a presentation, report, or infographic.
  3. Present accurate, contextual, and relevant project facts. Share any discrepancies or issues immediately, before they become bigger problems.
  4. Schedule meetings well in advance and automate meeting notifications to go out both one week and one day in advance.
  5. Ensure complete documentation of everything discussed in the meeting and circulate it to committee members before the next meeting.
  6. Uphold the project charter and refer to it in case of any confusion in authority, responsibility, or strategic direction.

Steering committee examples

A software as a service (SaaS) company wants to create a new user interface to improve the core software’s usage and accessibility.

Project charter: Guide the creation, design, and testing of a new UI/UX interface for the software where the steering committee will:

  • Act as an advisor to the project team and share recommendations and suggestions
  • Review project status and provide broad oversight to ensure achievement of project outcomes
  • Prioritize project deliverables to ensure that the new user interface goes live on or before Quarter 4 of 2023

Project management steering committee: The steering committee will include subject matter experts and representatives from the below teams:

What is a Steering Committee in Project Management? 2

Sample project milestones can include:

  1. Validate the product idea
  2. Identify basic requirements
  3. Outline the minimum viable product (MVP)
  4. Determine the pricing model, strategy, and market
  5. Describe the technical specifications that must be built
  6. Bring together the development team
  7. Finalize the project budget and KPIs to measure success
  8. Organize the entire project management workflow

Steering committee meetings can be held at the project launch, then scheduled just after the completion of each individual milestone to regularly take stock of project progress.

What common challenges do steering committees face?

Since project management steering committees are made up of employees from different backgrounds and functions, they will almost always face some challenges. These can include:

  • Conflicting interests: As the committee contains cross-functional representatives, they will often have conflicting opinions and interests. People think differently, which can reflect in their behavior, actions, and perspectives.
  • Slow decision-making: Team decision-making tends to be slower compared to individual decision-making.
  • Lack of clarity in roles: Many committee members may not be aware of their individual or team responsibilities. A well-defined steering committee charter ensures transparency and clarity about their roles in the project.

Steering committee vs. working group

Steering committees and working groups may sound similar, but they are different in their formation and approach. Steering committees can exist for many years, as they are established for a specific project’s duration or to oversee a project portfolio.

Project management committees operate within the scope of their project charter. They do not act independently from the project. While the committee members may change with time and project scope, the broader purpose and goals of the committee remain unchanged.

A working group is a short-term subset of a steering committee formed to work on a specific task, domain, or project. A working group is also known as a workgroup.

Certain individuals may be included in workgroups due to their expertise, experience, or domain knowledge. However, they do not automatically become members of the steering committee by virtue of being a member of its working group.

How to form a project management steering committee with Wrike

A steering committee is focused on the project’s success. Finding the right project management software and tools is crucial to keeping your committee on the same page. Wrike centralizes communication on one platform, providing a single source of truth for your project. Reports are updated in real-time, meaning the latest information is always available for team members and steering committee stakeholders alike.

Get a free Wrike trial to set up a steering committee, define its charter, and track progress to achieve project goals.