Every well-oiled machine relies on a capable person or team to steer the ship in the right direction. Many project management-oriented organizations have set up dedicated steering committees to provide guidance to key project portfolios. While their composition can vary, most project portfolio steering committees share the same overall goal: to keep things running smoothly across an entire organization. Here’s how a project portfolio steering committee works and how to create one.


Let’s Rewind: What is a “Steering Committee”, Exactly?

Steering committees are an increasingly popular type of corporate governance body. These oversight and advisory committees generally include a small group of leaders from different departments or areas of the business. They regularly meet to supervise the direction and course of a portfolio or initiative.


Who Should Sit on a Project Portfolio Steering Committee?

The members of a project portfolio steering committee usually have a considerable stake in the portfolio outcomes. They are typically:

  • Senior managers or executives
  • Board members
  • Department heads with appropriate decision-making authority
  • Experts and authority figures (either internal or external to the business)

These are just a few examples of professionals who might serve on the committee. The particular group makeup will depend on the scope, nature, and objectives of that portfolio.


Who Should Sit on a Project Portfolio Steering Committee?

For example, depending on the projects’ types and goals, it may make sense to involve scientific experts, marketing professionals, financial profiles, etc.

Project management professionals are generally not permanent members of a project portfolio steering committee. That said, the PMO or a portfolio manager might be included, if only on a case-by-case basis.


The Role of a Project Portfolio Steering Committee

Let’s start by getting a common misconception out of the way: a steering committee is not a project management office (PMO). In fact, large and sophisticated project organizations often have both a PMO and one or several portfolio steering committee(s), all playing different roles.

A steering committee shouldn’t interfere with the project management process or encroach upon the responsibilities of the PMO. Instead, the committee will support project management professionals to ensure they work towards the strategic directions defined by the business.

A project portfolio steering committee may, for example:

  • Set the strategic direction of key projects
  • Prioritize and reprioritize initiatives
  • Act as a champion and sponsor for key projects to promote them throughout the wider organization
  • Provide advice and expert input on business issues (budgeting, hiring, marketing, and so forth)
  • Resolve conflicts or arbitrate between different stakeholders
  • Monitor the quality and outcomes of the project management process and adjust accordingly
  • Refine or expand on policies and governance procedures
  • Identify business risks to the portfolio and come up with ideas and strategies to mitigate


Steering Committee Business Value

Although the members of a project portfolio steering committee typically don’t perform the actions they recommend or prescribe, such a committee can create significant business and project value.

A steering committee’s distance from daily concerns and operations enables its members to look at things with fresh eyes and bring valuable perspectives and insights to the management of the portfolio.

However, in order to maximize the value and benefits of having a project portfolio steering committee, organizations should make sure that their committee doesn’t evolve into a bureaucratic entity that increases procedural and administrative overhead unnecessarily. Where a steering committee coexists with a PMO and other management or governance bodies, it is also essential to ensure their roles are not redundant.


Tips for Creating a Strong Steering Committee

Here are a few pieces of advice for organizations that are considering setting up a project portfolio steering committee:

  • Keep it small. The efficiency and the value of your committee will hinge upon its ability to make fast decisions. Hence the imperative to limit the number of members and keep the panel comparatively small. This can be a challenge when dealing with large portfolios with key projects involving multiple departments that all feel they should be represented.
  • Pick the right people. Expertise, authority, and clout are not the only factors to be taken into account. What makes a great steering committee member is also the individual’s personality. It is of equal importance to build a balanced team and to select people who will be able to work with each other successfully. Finally, the leaders that’ll be invited to sit on the project portfolio steering committee should demonstrate great soft skills and, more specifically, great communication abilities.
  • Leverage software solutions. Set your project portfolio steering committee up for success with the help of a powerful tool like Sciforma. Designed to help you plan, prioritize, and execute strategic decisions powered by data, Sciforma gives your team everything it needs to successfully fulfill its business roles. Our project portfolio management software ensures your steering committee can quickly access vital project metrics, track project life cycles, and communicate with other stakeholders.


Final Thoughts

There is no single answer to what an ideal project portfolio steering committee should look like. It all depends on your organization’s strategic goals, priorities, and the scope or nature of your projects.

In general, leaders who represent each stage of a project’s life cycle are fine additions to a steering committee. While more diverse representation is usually ideal, it’s also important to keep your committee’s size manageable and realistic.

The goal is not to step on the toes of a PMO or other governance groups your organization relies on but to create a new body focused on supporting the systems you already have in place. To learn more, download our eBook, Bridging the PMO: 6 Must-Haves for Enterprise-Wide PPM.

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