Building a technology steering committee

Committees. Do you cringe at the name or embrace it? Information Technology departments use a steering committee to make decisions and prioritize work. Unfortunately, some business department leaders often roll their eyes or look for ways to request work without going through the committee. Who can blame them? Committees are difficult to operate without creating unnecessary delays for projects that need to be done. Yet part of the purpose of a committee is to act as a stage-gate and advisory board so that only the most important work is processed. Finding the right balance can be difficult and tricky.11080482376_602d236a44_z

I strongly believe there is no magic formula for steering committee design and operation. That’s because I consider the primary influencers of optimal committee design to be variable: culture, size, and purpose of the organization. My approach has been to keep a discipline to try, measure, and adjust. In this approach, I have a found a few elements of committee design that I consider to be the core of what makes the operations of the committee relevant and meaningful to the organization.

1. Name the committee with a purpose.

I don’t like the name Information Technology Steering Committee because it implies the committee is mainly comprised of and controlled by IT management. I chose the name Business Technology Steering Committee with the intention of showing that the IT group is neither the primary controller nor primary membership of the committee body.

2. Encourage and promote departmental representation.

For the committee to function as a complete governing body for the technology-spend of the company it should be represented by members from each department. IT is a cost center on the books and thus the decisions that are made on how to spend the IT allocation should be visible to everyone. Some may see this as the political recommendation in my tips-list as it involves building the membership of the group. I like to think of it more as the opportunity to build relationships with the various department heads. This has been a sore spot for traditional IT groups, but it can change if IT leadership sells the vision of the Business Technology Steering Committee and builds a committee that is well represented.

3. Don’t over complicate the committee with process and procedures.

The top reason that business leaders don’t like to participate in committees is that they see the committee as overly bureaucratic: Too many forms, too much red tape and too much delay. Yet committee organizers need some level of process to govern the inputs, outputs, and conversation within the group. The trick is to find the right balance. When committee members see this they will in turn act as ambassadors for the committee and the process and it will make it much easier to gain compliance from the rest of the organization

4. Find a way to settle priority discussions.

I consider this to be hardest part of setting up the committee and I don’t know that I’ve found the best answer for my group yet. The conflict arises when multiple requests are approved but require the same set of employees to accomplish. Each business presenter favors their own request and many committee members want to do it all without having to prioritize. Other factors are that timing and execution could make or break the entire business case of what is presented. It’s important to stick to the facts and keep emotion out of prioritization discussions. Use business logic such as ROI, compliance, and regulatory matters as guides.

I’d like to know what has and has not worked for you. Committee design and operation is not easy. Can I say it’s like herding cats or is that too cliché? Let me know your thoughts.

Onward and upward!

Photo Credit:  Reynermedia