In the world of project management, steering committees often come across as necessary evils. Intended to provide guidance and governance, they too frequently fall short of their purpose and end up consuming precious time and resources.

Here are some common reasons why many steering committees turn out to be more of a hindrance than a help.

Reports for Show, Not Substance

One of the most frustrating aspects of steering committees is the tendency for reports to be polished to perfection but lack meaningful substance. This emphasis on appearances over insights can lead to discussions that skim the surface without addressing critical issues.

Tip: Implement a standardized format for steering committee reports to enable committee members to streamline their focus on content, resulting in quicker decision-making.

Wrong Questions, Limited Value

Steering committees sometimes dwell on the wrong questions, asking for details that don’t contribute to project success. This can lead to time wasted on irrelevant discussions while overlooking critical aspects.

Tip: Prioritize steering committee meetings around predefined success criteria and key performance indicators (KPIs) to ensure discussions revolve around critical project aspects, reducing the chances of wasting time on irrelevant details.

Not Steering, But Drifting

The primary role of a steering committee should be to guide the project in the right direction. However, some committees end up as passive spectators, failing to provide the necessary course corrections when the project veers off track.

Tip: Ensure active steering committee participation by establishing clear expectations for their role in guiding the project’s direction and regularly reviewing project progress against predefined milestones, allowing timely course corrections when needed.

Inexperienced or Ill-Informed Members

It’s not uncommon for steering committees to include members who lack the experience or knowledge needed for effective decision-making. When this happens, their contributions may inadvertently hinder progress rather than support it.

Tip: Conduct a thorough assessment of steering committee members’ qualifications and provide targeted training or access to resources to bridge knowledge gaps. Ensure that committee composition aligns with the project’s needs to foster effective decision-making.

Blurry Focus

A lack of clear objectives and a defined scope can turn steering committee meetings into aimless endeavors. Without a focused agenda, discussions may meander, accomplishing little.

Tip: Define clear objectives and a well-structured agenda for steering committee meetings, ensuring that discussions remain focused on critical project matters. Set specific goals and outcomes to make meetings more productive and purpose-driven.

No Pre-Reads, No Preparations

Often, there’s a lack of preparation before steering committee meetings. Members may not read the materials in advance, resulting in a scramble to catch up during the meeting itself. This hinders meaningful discussions and decisions.

Tip: Implement a practice of distributing pre-read materials well in advance of steering committee meetings, and encourage members to review them thoroughly. Set expectations for preparedness to promote meaningful discussions and informed decision-making during the meetings.

Overemphasis on Status Quo

Some steering committees are resistant to change and overly attached to the status quo. This can stifle innovation and prevent the project from adapting to evolving circumstances.

Tip: Foster a culture of adaptability and openness to change within the steering committee by emphasizing the importance of innovation and flexibility. Encourage discussions on how proposed changes align with project goals and can lead to improved outcomes, helping the committee embrace necessary adjustments.

Ignoring Expert Recommendations

When expert recommendations and advice are consistently brushed aside or ignored by the committee, it can undermine the credibility of the entire project team and lead to avoidable mistakes.

Tip: Establish a culture of trust and collaboration within the steering committee by actively seeking and valuing expert recommendations and advice. Encourage open dialogue and constructive discussions to ensure that expert insights are considered and integrated into decision-making processes.

Steering committees can be valuable assets if they operate efficiently and provide meaningful guidance. However, when plagued by the issues mentioned above, they become significant time-wasters that hinder, rather than steer, project progress.

To avoid falling into this trap, it’s crucial to assemble knowledgeable and engaged committee members, focus on the right questions, and ensure that meetings are well-prepared and outcome-driven. Only then can steering committees truly fulfill their intended purpose.