November 23, 2020

Steering committee best practices for success

There’s no one way to approach steering committee design, but these best practices will help chart a path to more successful projects.

According to the Project Management Institute, only about a quarter of projects truly succeed, meaning they are completed on time, within budget, and accomplish the stated strategic goals. That’s why steering committees exist – to increase the likelihood a project will succeed.

Knowing what a steering committee is, however, is just half the job. In the life science industry, projects can have far-reaching implications. For example, global, multi-year clinical trials might have life-changing impact on patients and their families, and it’s critical that trial activities are carefully managed to ensure a successful outcome. The truth is, no project is too big or too well-funded to fail – so it’s critical that project oversight is well-prepared.

How can I make sure my steering committee is successful?

Steering committee structure is among the first important tasks you’ll undertake. If your project has lots of stakeholders, you’ll want to make sure that each is represented on the committee.

This ensures that their opinions are heard, and that they have the opportunity to weigh in on decisions and understand how steering committee activities might affect their organization. In the life science industry, steering committee members might include HCPs, principal investigators, external stakeholders like payers or patient advocates, and other invited observers.

Running an effective steering committee means establishing an efficient project governance structure. When it comes to who should be on a steering committee or steering group, there are a few steps you can take to choose the right people.

  1. Are they empowered? Steering committees are about decision-making, so you’ll want to ensure that your members are not only well-informed but influential. Can they make things happen? Are they in a position to move the needle when time is of the essence?

  2. Are they invested? Each committee member should not only come prepared to be decisive but to understand how their strategic decisions will affect the organization or group of people they represent.

  3. Are they committed? While steering committees don’t necessarily meet often, attendance at each steering committee meeting is important. If your committee is global in nature, this can be a problem – but there are ways of getting around that (we’ll discuss them later in this post).

Once you have all the key stakeholders represented and can vouch for each member’s ability to contribute in a meaningful way, you’re on the right track.

Is there a specific meeting agenda I should follow with my committee?

Having a specific type of agenda is less important than simply ensuring you have an agenda prepared for each meeting. There are certain elements you should include so that each meeting is time well spent for the members. While there’s no explicit set of rules on how to run a steering committee meeting, the general idea is to get as much done as you can without wasting members’ time. Helpful tips include:

  1. Set the tone by setting an objective. Beyond just creating an agenda, share with members your goals and objectives ahead of the meeting. You can even offer to take questions before the meeting begins. Anything you can do to optimize the time spent in the meeting is generally a good idea.

  2. Don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s not that your committee members can’t handle the intricate details of the project – it’s that these details aren’t what they’re on the committee to deal with. You’ve selected big-picture people, so give them the big picture. This includes things like budget, particularly because a high percentage of projects go over budget (and aren’t even completed!).

  3. Know your audience. Take the time to understand what makes your committee tick – do they like to chat for 10 minutes before beginning work, or do they prefer to get right down to business? Some steering committees may be highly attuned to data points, while others will want to understand more subjective factors affecting the project. Once you know who you’re dealing with, you’ll be in a better position to run efficient meetings.

How can I make my steering committee more effective?

Like other aspects of any successful organization, steering committees work best when they can be flexible. Even if your committee must convene on a strict schedule – quarterly, for example – might you accomplish even more if you can meet in a more ad hoc fashion? Are you able to accommodate members who have unpredictable schedules, or are unable to travel or join webcasts on short notice?

In modern life science organizations, the speed of information is increasing. New developments are announced and new data becomes available as research is increasingly accelerated by technology like artificial intelligence.

Clinical trial sites can now rely on remote patient monitoring through connected devices like tablets and smartwatches, and digital medicine promises to help eliminate fallibility in medication regimens and patient-physician communication. If steering committees are only meeting four times per year, the volume of information they must review and interpret could become overwhelming.

Hybrid virtual engagement – the ability to combine asynchronous virtual engagement with live virtual interactions like webcasts – can help pharmaceutical and medical device teams become more nimble in terms of steering committee activities.

How to use technology to improve your steering committee

Some Within3 clients contract a panel of experts to be available throughout the year on short notice to make faster strategic decisions when issues arise. This works because asynchronous engagement allows each committee member to log into a virtual advisory board and participate on their own schedule, at their own pace.

Freeing steering committee members from yet another video conference commitment also results in better overall participation, both in terms of attendance and the insight provided. When members have the time to focus on their work without multitasking, they can offer deeper, more relevant insight.

No two steering committees are the same. Different projects, global perspectives, and opinions that may differ or even be in conflict mean that there will be many variables. However, ensuring effective and efficient interaction with a hybrid virtual engagement strategy can reduce the variables that could negatively impact your project. To learn more about how to use asynchronous engagement to quickly stand up an expert panel, read a customer success story.