The top management project steering committee

part II

Project Management in Action


Part II

Joan Knutson, Feature Editor

In Part I we introduced the Project Steering Committee (PSC) and demonstrated how it can, nay MUST, set priorities for projects. In Part II, let's consider two more key responsibilities of the PSC, resource allocation and some organizational issues.


The second key role of the PSC is resource allocation. The participating committee members own the resources that will be assigned to the projects supporting the organization. The allocation of these resources across the top-ranked projects is decided by this committee. To accomplish this, estimates must be made of how many units of resources of each type are required by each activity for each project. By estimating resources at the activity level, it becomes feasible to allocate the resources to each project only during time periods when they can be used effectively. The alternative is to assign a set of resources to a project only to have some resources be under- if not un-utilized during certain periods when there really is nothing for them to do.

These estimates must be used to determine the units of each resource required each day or week of the project. This is generally referred to as resource loading analysis. The projects must be scheduled within the limits of the resources available. For example, the resources must be allocated to the highest priority project, to the next highest-priority project, and so on, until all available resources are allocated.

At that point, the committee has several choices:

  1. All the lower-level projects can be put on hold until some of the higher-level projects are completed and free up resources allocated to them.
  2. The lower-level projects are important enough to be done. Therefore, outside resources can be hired to accommodate these projects as well as the higher-level projects.
  3. The deadlines of some of the higher-level projects can be extended, thus making available some of the resources to work on lower-level projects.
  4. It may be decided that these lower-level projects are in fact more important than originally perceived. They may be re-ranked to a higher position, bumping another currently high level project down and possibly out of the running for available resources.

These resource loading calculations are not easy. They take intense mathematical manipulations, especially when simulating different alternative scenarios. Therefore, a Modem Project Management (MPM) scheduling software package capable of allocating resources needs to be considered. When evaluating such a package, consider the following characteristics of the product:

  • It needs to be user-friendly; i.e., easy to learn and easy to use.
  • It should allow data to be entered in a simple, straightforward manner.
  • It must permit what-if scenarios to explore alternative options with ease.
  • It must produce output reports that are meaningful to the PSC members who will make decisions based on them.

Furthermore, there are several other guidelines when implementing this type of software:

  • The reporting mechanism must be timely; in other words, the reports must reflect the latest assignments and the latest priority of the projects,
  • The people who are providing the data to be entered in the resource allocation system must believe in its benefits and agree to use it. This entails several things:
  • The people must understand how the data is being used and what's in it for them to provide accurate and up-to-date data,
  • They must understand the PSC's commitment to the process (once the committee shows that they are ignoring the data, the people will see no purpose in providing it), and
  • Instruction must be given to the people on how to provide the original input data, how and when to share changes, and how to pull output reports for validation and for their own management purposes.

We have so far discussed the two main functions of the PSC; priority setting and resource allocation. In addition to these key responsibilities, this committee can and should address a variety of organizational issues.


Joan Knutson is president and founder of Project Management Mentors, a San Francisco-based project management consulting and training firm. She is a graduate of Ohio State University, and has worked with a wide range of disciplines and industries spanning the areas of high-technology, insurance, banking, pharmaceuticals, and utilities, to name a few.


The following issues all focus around policies and procedures that the PSC put into place in order to support the project management discipline. Some of these policies and procedures are officially established and supported by the committee; others are informal yet key to the way in which the committee works with the rest of the project community.

Project management office. A Project Management Office may be established that supports the administrative functions performed by the PSC. This office would be responsible for the collection of the planned and actual resource allocation data. It would also be responsible for communicating to all the interested parties the priority ranking of the multiple projects.

Beyond the administrative role, we suggest that the Project Office serve as an internal consultative entity. This means that the staff within the Project Office will serve as mentors to project managers and project team members offering advise and hands-on support to project teams in planning, monitoring and tracking of projects.

Performance appraisal reviews. Project Managers (PMs) need to have performance appraisal review input to the reviews of their team members even if those team members do not report to them directly. This is not just for the sake of PMs positioning themselves in the role as a manager (albeit part time) of a team member; but it also gives the team member due credit for the time and effort he/she has expanded on a project.

Communication plan. The PSC needs to articulate a communication plan to all the participants in the project community. For example, how often will priorities be re-evaluated and what input does the committee need from PMs and from project clients in order tore-establish priorities? How frequently will a project team be asked to present to the committee, what information should they be prepared to present, what will the feedback be from the committee and how quickly will it be given? Communication Plans area topic in and of themselves and should be taken seriously and planned carefully.

The above organization issues are tangible and are backed up with written policies and procedures. The following organizational issues are more intangible.

From function-oriented organization to cross-functional organization. Recognize that this is a significant cultural change. The transition needs to be orchestrated and the roles, accountabilities and authorities clearly defined and communicated. If the cross-functional concept is not well positioned and supported by management, the self-contained empires of the functional departments will continue to be secretive, non-communicative, competitive and antagonistic. If a functional manager does not get the message of the importance of cross-functional management in his/her culture, the instinct will be to keep the strongest staff on functional duties and by default, assign the weaker on projects.

Responsibility/authority. Although most people are clear that their responsibility is to support projects approved by and prioritized by the PSC, may I suggest that a clarification of the accountability of not performing these project duties on time and within budget be clearly communicated to one and all. Furthermore, may I suggest that the authority which these people possess and do not possess be communicated to them, to their managers, to the PMs, and to their peers with whom they have to deal.

Empowerment to say “NO”—with proof and alternate recommendations. In many organizations in which I consult, many people do not know how saying, “No,” will be perceived. As a result, they try as hard as they can to pull their part of the project off. With inordinate effort, they often do “pull it off'; but they resent the dilemma they have put themselves into. This scenario occurs because the PM and the project team don't know how far they can go to reforecast the project schedules without informing the committee. Furthermore, they don't know how to get what they need to accomplish their goals, much less how to approach the PSC to professionally renegotiate what they need.

Expectations. The PSC must make sure everyone understands the committee's expectations relative to preparing briefing presentations, how to make day-to-day decisions based on the published project priorities, when to ask for help, when not to ask for help, and other behaviors.

In Part III we will discuss Planning Issues in Modem Project Management. In Part IV we will discuss how the PSC maintains control over the portfolio of projects over which they are responsible. We will also present some ideas on how members of the PSC and others in the organization can be provided the training essential to fully realize the benefits of MPM. ❏

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

PMNETwork • February 1994



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