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Steering Committee in Software Engineering: Definition, Roles, Responsibilities 

August 4th, 2022
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Steering committees are vital to the most complex, revolutionary tech projects because they provide consistent support and guidance through thick and thin. While most realize the need for such an advisory board, agile tech executives know that a steering committee is crucial for avoiding risks.

Still, putting together one isn’t where things end. You must be strategic about whom to include and ensure that the steering committee members can access accurate, reliable information about the team’s performance, progress, and overall deliverables. Setting up a solid basis of data enables the committee to use their expertise to solve bottlenecks, propose new measures and priorities, and make sound decisions. 

With automatic data collection across your development stack, Waydev enables steering committee members to dive deep into work patterns and project roadmaps. Our comprehensive executive reports provide a clear view of engineering metrics and KPIs over time. 

In this article, you will learn what a steering committee is, its role, and how it delivers value to organizations. We will also walk you through how to use data to foster sound executive decision-making that drives success. 

What is a steering committee?

A steering committee is a widespread IT management practice meant to bring key stakeholders that oversee and support complex, costly projects that usually have high stakes. 

The steering committee works as an advisory board, with full governance throughout the specific project’s lifecycle and a high level of authority and expertise in IT and engineering. Its role is to help steer the project in the right direction, no matter how many variables and unexpected situations may occur. 

In this context, it is essential to ensure that steering committees benefit from an excellent combination of skills and expertise, bringing together valuable executives and leaders. 

Members of the steering committee 

Who is part of the steering committee depends on the project’s scope and team. Usually, they are experts, authority figures, and senior executives that are not involved in the actual project execution. This enables them to be impartial, bringing added value and an objective, outside perspective on progress and development. 

A project steering committee includes the project manager, members of the departments most impacted by the deliverables, and different forms of stakeholders, including customers and end-users. 

On the other hand, an organizational steering committee is made of C-suite executives, board members, and department heads. This level of expertise is associated with projects that impact the company’s strategy and require significant resources and good, insightful thinking. Since they can’t afford to get it wrong, high-level professionals get involved by participating in the steering committee. 

A crucial role in the steering committee is the chairperson. The executive that occupies it is chosen by the rest of the members and has no ownership over the actual project. 

The steering committee is focused on providing direction and scope and overseeing the organization’s budget, timeline, and methods. This is why they constantly meet, discuss the progress and roadblocks, and assess where the project is and its direction. 

To perform their roles, the members of an organizational steering committee need to understand very well the current state of the project and have visibility over key metrics. Waydev’s customizable executive reports make this information available instantly by generating charts and tables that help you understand data, covering everything from product changes to department restructuring. 

Waydev customizable report

Scope of the steering committee

Given their members’ expertise, we can agree that steering committees are particularly valuable for a project’s success. They keep teams on track, ensure budgets are respected and mitigate risks and conflict. Here are the top responsibilities of steering committees. 

Keeping the team onboard

Complex projects often come with their share of pressure, changes in dynamics, and extra work. To be successful, they require support from the professionals involved, meaning the team needs to buy into what is happening. 

To ensure they don’t meet resistance, the steering committee members need to share their vision about the project, making people feel like they are part of something bigger than they appreciate and respect. 

Moreover, as leaders, these executives and department heads are often expected to bring people together and foster collaboration, making them work better and more efficiently and creating a sense of importance and urgency. 

Waydev’s Review Collaboration map enables tech leaders to understand how well teams collaborate in the code review process, thus understanding the healthy tension between speed and thoroughness. When performed constantly, this assessment fosters a culture of collaboration, ensuring that the team dynamic is positive and focuses on attaining the project’s goals. 

Executive-level decision-making

The more complex the project and the bigger the team, the slower the decision-making process. This happens because individuals make decisions more quickly than in groups, where everyone has different perspectives and is focused on their own workflows and priorities. 

Steering committees use their experience and expertise to make decisions efficiently as a unit. This ensures no disruptions in processing tasks and that resources are used efficiently.  

These executives also pay attention to the bigger picture. Their role is to look beyond the actual project and see how it affects the organization’s ecosystem, analyzing the impact on other departments, teams, and stakeholders. Such an approach goes beyond the project manager’s responsibilities, requiring a view that combines operational and business aspects. 

For example, after analyzing the project deliverables, their importance, as well as the overall company load, a steering committee may decide that the internal resources available for a project don’t suffice and that external help should be included. This might happen when the company doesn’t have the talent and skill set for a more complex project, or when a fresh, outside perspective would bring value to the deliverables. 

Step in and resolve issues 

The project manager may resolve many project issues, as this is the professional in charge of managing bottlenecks and ensuring everyone is on the same page. Still, some conflicts are more brutal to mediate, especially when people with different perspectives and capabilities can’t reach a compromise. This is where the steering committee steps in. 

Since the committee is also a cross-functional structure, members may use their know-how to find resolutions for more complex situations and help teams see the most efficient path that benefits the whole organization. 

Moreover, the steering committee may also intervene to help managers identify potential inefficiencies and optimize projects whenever possible. Their role isn’t only to identify and impose ways of doing things, but also to ask the right questions, thus making it easier for teams to agree on the best ways to solve potential issues and improve activity. 

Sharing his experience with the Waydev solutions, Vaibhav Deshpande, VP of Software Development at Nowcom, showcased how he encourages managers to analyze the team’s commits, which he sees as precious insight sources. 

A commit that is larger than the average suggests that unexpected errors may have occurred. Analyzing what happened enables managers to understand the situation and take future measures to ensure such cases don’t happen again. This leads to continuous project optimization. 

Approve project budgets

Another executive responsibility, the budget, is an essential element of each project. The PM addresses the experts involved and their teams and, after going through the steps and the acceptable timeframe, determines the resources necessary. 

Once he has it, the project manager submits the project budget for approval by the steering committee. The members analyze it, considering how feasible it appears to be and comparing it against the organization’s finances. 

As the project moves forward, the PM might decide that it requires additional resources to be completed in time and at the agreed parameters. In this case, a new budget must be prepared and presented to the steering committee. It is only with their approval that new funds may be released. 

Waydev’s Project Costs report offers key details on the progress and costs of critical deliverables, thus ensuring the PM has all the necessary information to go before the steering committee and showcase how funds are spent. This enables executives to analyze whether additional resources are required and assess their impact on the quality and timeframe of the deliverables. 

Apart from the above, in practice, steering committees have several other functions that they perform.

Steering committee functions 

Set the strategic direction, objectives, and KPIs

Given its members’ expertise and overall vision, the steering committee plays a crucial role in setting the project’s strategic direction, focusing on the scope and the goals. Their work doesn’t end here; they also need to establish how success is measured and identify the key performance indicators that should be attained. 

This way, the project team knows exactly what is expected of them and on which they should focus.

Advocate the project across the organization

A project that requires a steering committee is a project that impacts the organization on a higher level, thus leaving its mark on several departments and roles. It is recommended that such initiatives be communicated thoroughly to all internal stakeholders, so they buy into them. 

Given that they set the strategic direction and vision, the steering committee members often become advocates of the project across the organization, ensuring that more professionals develop positive feelings. This approach leads to a chain reaction, where executives make managers support the initiative, and managers share it with their team members, thus increasing everyone’s involvement. 

Offer consistent support to the PM

The steering committee often chooses the initiative’s project manager. Identifying the right person isn’t all they need to do. Supporting the PM with constant advice and direct input is also crucial. The steering committee members may share their vision on budgeting, resources, tools, and techniques. 

Moreover, the steering committee may encourage the project manager and offer leadership advice that keeps teams motivated and performing at their optimal potential. 

Monitor risk, quality, and processes

Although not involved in the project’s day-by-day operations, the steering committee must monitor everything, from the deliverables’ quality to the processes, plans, and potential risks. 

Such an approach sets the basis for decision-making, enabling members to decide on adjustments, approve or reject changes, prioritize project elements, and identify and mitigate risk. 

Develop policies and governance

Benefiting from its members’ expert input, steering committees play a crucial role in developing organization-level policies and governance procedures.  

To be successful, governance practices need to focus on optimization and efficiency, eliminating bureaucracy, so that time and resources are used to their maximum potential. 

Data-driven decision-making solutions for the steering committee

Bringing a steering committee to the table is an excellent IT management practice. Still, it’s not a success recipe in itself. 

To gain maximum value from it, you must ensure that this advisory board has complete visibility over your project and that it receives relevant data expressed clearly. Only by having access to correct and accurate key metrics does the steering committee make sound, timely decisions that bring value to the initiative. 

This is where a solution like Waydev comes in. By automatically collecting data from your engineering toolstack repositories and analyzing it, our platform generates useful executive reports that enable C-suite members and department heads to measure performance and progress and identify trends and potential issues. This paves the way for informed decision-making, thus increasing the chances of project success.  

With Waydev, steering committees have access to insights that may be customized according to their needs for information and the project’s specific requirements. 

For example, our Project Timeline helps executives understand how work focus and volume change over time, while also enabling them to see how different events impact team performance and contribute to data-driven decisions. 

Waydev enables steering committees to turn data into successful decisions

A steering committee brings significant value to projects and organizations, as it helps them successfully implement complex initiatives affecting several departments and value streams. Still, for this to happen, the steering committee members require a data-driven ecosystem that helps them gain a clear and correct view of the status of the project, the team’s progress, and the quality of deliverables. 

Waydev’s data-driven approach helps steering committees benefit from reliable data, with minimal effort, by just accessing our dedicated reports. Moreover, by gathering information automatically from repositories, our solution ensures that teams don’t disrupt their activity and can continue focusing on their tasks. 

Contact us, and let’s see how we can help your steering committee use data for successful decision-making. 

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