Managing Committees Like Projects

A committee is a group of individuals selected by the organization’s executive management to review and analyze a specific matter identified by the organization to come with tangible deliverables to address how the organization can proceed with this specific matter. The committee should usually explore all possible options to address this matter and come with final recommendations on how to proceed to the organization. The committee members may have different functions and roles within the organization. It is also possible that the committee could have members from outside the organizations.

Committees are similar to projects by being unique and temporary. They are unique as usually a committee is assembled to address a new requirement or idea that the organization wants to address or consider. And it is temporary as usually the committee will be dissolved when the final deliverables are completed.

Committees represent major investments for organizations as usually most of the committee members are senior executives who are not only considered as expensive resources but they carry a high cost of lost opportunity as the committee will consume some of the time they need to spend in in managing the other business that they are formally responsible for.

Since committees are similar to projects, then it makes sense to manage committees like projects and adopt the best practices of project management on running those committees. Therefore, the initiation of a committee should be done by preparing the Project Charter.  This will ensure that all of the committee particulars are formally captured and approved. This could include the committee title, objectives, proposed committee members, constraints and assumptions, start and completion dates along with key milestone dates among others. The project charter should be signed off by the appointed committee chairman, who will be the project manager and the organization’s representative who have requested to set a committee to review and analyze the specified matter.

With this being approved, the committee chairman along with his or her appointed committee members needs to plan on how this committee will be able to deliver the objectives it was created for in the most efficient and successful format. The first step should focus on trying to identify what are the expected deliverables and results that the organization would expect to receive when this committee concludes its work. The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is a proven technique for identifying the committee deliverables and expected results. The WBS also helps in better describing the scope of the committee to avoid getting involved in areas that the committee should be involved with. In others words, the WBS will help in identifying what is in scope and what is out of scope of the committee.

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The next step is to identify the milestone dates for starting and concluding the committee activities. It will also identify the proposed dates for the committee will meet as well as the dates for producing the agreed deliverables. The committee schedule should also detail the activities that will be performed by the sub-committees, if any and outside expertise needed for the committee.

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If an organization wants to ensure efficiency in running their committees, a committee should have a budget set for it and the actual cost against this budget should be monitored and controlled. The budget will include the cost of the committee members’ man-days and all other direct and indirect expenses that is required to perform the duties of this committee. In addition, there should be a formal process to capture all budget adjustments and transfers.

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To ensure the quality of the committee deliverables and results, the committee team should have clear identification in the roles and responsibilities for reviewing and approving those deliverables. This also leads to the need to have a clear responsibility matrix to identify the roles and duties of each committee member during the committee duration. This matrix will also detail the duration that each committee member will be needed during the life of this committee.

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One of the keys tasks of any committee is conducting meetings to review the achievements of the committee, actions taken or needs to be taken, deliverables status, challenges and issues among others. Therefore, the committee communication plan should identify the format of documenting meeting minutes, tracking the resolution of meeting business items and reporting on the status of pending meeting business items.

The meeting minutes’ template should always have the proposed start and finish time for the meeting, who should attend the meeting and who have actually attended the meeting. If the committee requires different type of meetings with different audience, then this needs to be enforced. For each meeting, all business items need to be captured along with the party responsible for it and required action date. As a good practice, each business item needs to be assigned to a single individual otherwise accountability could be jeopardized. The actual date when a business is successfully closed should be also documented. It is a must that the meeting management system enables the continuity of meeting minutes’ history by generating the follow-on meeting agenda from the past meeting after it gets updated.

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It is highly recommended to associate an action management system with the meeting management system. The action management system will enable the individual responsible to take an action on any of the business items to identify the different tasks by his or her team members, him or herself as well as well as any other committee members that need to be performed to conclude this business item. Those tasks will have specific date assigned for each. This list of tasks will be updated when they are completed.

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The communication plan should also address on the filing structure to store the different documents, communications and deliverables. The filing structure will include folders and subfolders with different access rights to maintain confidentiality. The document management system needs to allow document versions, checking and checking out documents, assigning document attributes, associating workflows for submitting, review and approving those documents among others.

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Finally, the communication plan should provide a template to report the performance of the committee including accomplishments, meetings held, pending decisions, issues among others that could be of interest to the committee and the organization. It is highly recommended that an organization standardizes the performance reporting of all its committees to enable performance comparison as well as leveraging the knowledge gained by the different committees.

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Although some might question on the value of having risk management addressed in managing committees, but again many of the committees’ actions and decisions are based on assumptions when actual data is not available. Therefore, maintaining a risk register with the likelihood and impact of identified risks and actions taken to treat those risks is vital. Actually, aggregating the risk data from the different committees will provide the organization with a great asset on how to better handle those risks with least impact on the objectives of those committees.

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Assessing the risks associated in achieving the committee objectives might require the committee to seek the services of an external organization or expert individuals who might have better knowledge and experience in dealing with part of the committee’s scope of work. Outsourcing those services require following the best practices in soliciting the services of experienced vendors and have the right contract agreement for delivering the needed scope. Those agreements will become the basis for receiving those vendors’ invoices and make payment for those invoices. Those agreements will also provide the basis for assessing and managing changes to those vendors scope of work.

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Finally, and similar to all projects, there are stakeholders who could be directly or indirectly influenced by the committee’s decisions and actions. The influence of those stakeholders needs to be analyzed and incorporated in the committee’s operation. An example of those stakeholders could be the media for which the committee needs to consider on what and how to share details on the actions of the committee.

Carrying out those activities will enable the committee to have an integrated and well thought of Project Management Plan (PMP). This plan will be jointly reviewed by the committee members and the organization to provide the confidence that the committee can proceed with what they have been asked to do in a less risky and more efficient format.

Executing the approved plan requires proper monitoring and controlling the outcomes of what was performed by the committee. The schedule needs to be updated with actual dates, commitments need to capture actual costs and any changes to the cost, deliverables need to be formally reviewed and approved, meeting minutes need to be captured, documented and shared, actions to respond and close meeting business items need to performed and reported on, progress reports need to submitted, risk register needs to be updated, outsourced contracts need to be awarded, payments for work done and approved need to be made and sharing information with stakeholders need to be done as planned.

When the committee successfully complete all the needed deliverables and results for which it was entrusted with, the committee team can proceed to the closeout stage where lessons learned and knowledge gained need to be documented so it can become an asset that the organization can benefit from on future committees.

In summary, applying professional project management practices on how committees are managed will for sure add value by not improving the performance of those committees but by providing the needed transparency, accountability, governance and performance reporting.

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