Exploring the Role of Steering Committees in Realizing Value From Project Management

Abstract: The impact of steering committees on project performance and their role in creating value from project management capabilities is not well understood. A case study analysis was chosen to analyze the configurations and specific functions of project steering committees. A measurement model for steering committee configurations was developed to enable further survey-based studies. One of the major insights resulting from the authors’ interviews with project managers and senior managers was that they perceived the existence of a project steering committee only when the context was defined and clarified. Furthermore, a large variety of committee involvements was identified, concluding that steering committees per se are very rare. On the project level, the cases clearly demonstrate that committees with project steering functions play an important role in the selection, initiation, definition, and control of projects. On the organizational level, they are important to implement and maintain project management standards. Finally, the results clearly indicate that steering committees directly support project success and are instrumental for attaining value from an organization’s investments in its project management system.

Reference: Project Management Journal, Vol. 40, No. 1, 42-54.

Authors: Thomas G. Lechler, Stevens Institute of Technology; Martin Cohen, Stevens Institute of Technology

Link: http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/122217097/abstract

Comments: My first reaction was: I wonder what relevance this research has to Change Advisory Boards in a Change Management process. However, beyond the superficiality they are not very similar. Projects, and hence project steering committees, are more strategic. Project steering committees consist mostly of executive management; the CAB may consist of representatives of management, users, partners, and vendors among others.

What surprised me the most of the research is how little research has been performed this area. Lechler and Cohen sought to address the questions of project steering committees: 1) what are the various configurations and responsibilities, 2) which project decisions are made, 3) how are they organizations, and 4) do they increase project management value? In order to do this they examined four companies in depth, as part of a larger PMI-sponsored study.

They found wide variety in steering committee composition, which is consistent with my observations of CABs in organizations implementing Change Management. In general they found steering committees are perceived to improve project management performance with minimal detrimental elements, such as political infighting or delayed decision-making. I wonder what would have resulted from the study of project-oriented organizations that lack the element of a structured steering committee–would they perceive lack of a steering committee hinders project management success?