Starting up or revamping a PMO is tricky and complex. They're established to address a number of business opportunities and problems. If a PMO will help navigate these turbulent waters, it should not be on one or two people to determine its direction. Committed organizations will setup a PMO Steering Committee.
I'll start by saying a PMO Steering Committee is not a guarantee. Frankly, I think this key group is overlooked quite often. Every PMO will need an Executive Sponsor, which will also be part of this group if formed. But for some companies, they don't see a steering committee as a necessity. Smaller organizations that may be OK, but for larger ones I'd say make this a must-have.
What is a Steering Committee? In project management, a steering committee is a governing body of key stakeholders tasked with overseeing and supporting a project to ensure the attainment of its goals. They provide guidance and support throughout the project lifecycle. Now take that definition and apply it to the PMO. I'll say they're a governing body of key senior management tasked with overseeing and supporting the establishment and operation of the PMO as a viable business unit.
Who's part of this committee? The PMO Steering Committee should be made up of cross-functional senior leadership who have the authority to be decision makers. Because these leaders usually oversee departments which the PMO will interact with, they can assist with adoption. They have clear direction of their role on the committee. They understand the importance the PMO will have on organizational success and business strategy. At the end of the day, they're committed to PMO success.
What roles to PMO Steering Committees play? Here is a list of services they can provide.
- Help identify the organizational need, strategize and prioritize the PMO's key initiatives
- Approve the PMO Charter/Business Case
- Identify and finalize PMO KPI's and critical success factors
- Review PMO startup and revamp milestones; pivot when necessary
- Review and mitigate risks
- Advocate the PMO's value within their functional areas and increase adoption
- Quickly resolve conflicts
- Escalation point for larger issues
- Monitor the budget and approve spend
- Counsel on staffing, obtaining internal candidates and reviewing external hires
- Review progress
- Executive mentorship of the PMO leader
How often should a PMO Steering Committee meet? The quickest answer is as often as necessary. In the early stages, I recommend meeting at least bi-weekly. As time progresses, these can be monthly, but no longer than that.
When preparing for a PMO Steering Committee meeting, my feedback is have your shit together! These are senior leaders, so their time is limited. Send the following out 24 hours in advance in the event they have time to review before the meeting.
- A clear agenda
- Single page status report with milestones and KPI's clearly called out
- Key risks called out
- Decisions that need to be made
- Conflicts to be resolved
- Anything else the Steering Committee identifies as important
Will this committee also steer the project portfolio? It definitely could, but this group's charter is to establish the PMO as an effective business unit.
A PMO steering committee can be a great asset as it is being established, revamped, or as an ongoing "gut check" it's meeting business value. Though not a guarantee, especially in smaller companies, there are functions it performs that are beneficial.