Projects with multiple sponsors are particularly susceptible to scope creep, as each stakeholder tries to add his or her favorite features without visibility into what the others might be asking. The poor project manager must contend with requests coming from all directions; depending on the relative strengths of the personalities involved, requirements may move in one direction or another, and the results may be disastrous.

One way of minimizing scope creep (and other problems inherent in multiple sponsorship) is to set up a steering committee consisting of representatives from each of the key entities. Everybody gets a chance to weigh in on the big issues affecting the project.

That’s not all. The following are some of the other advantages of steering committees:

• They provide a way of getting everybody on the same page by communicating information to all parties at the same time and in the same way.
• They serve as fora in which the different people, who presumably have at least some interests in common, can share views on other subjects.
• They allow a project manager to get buy-in from all the right people all at once.

But the approach of setting up and running a steering committee isn’t without its own set of hazards. Personality conflicts make it difficult to iron out issues, especially when the reporting lines within the steering committee are ambiguous. Furthermore, the different people from the various sponsors may not have equal levels of power within their own organizations. While some sponsors may send mid-level managers, others may have top executives on the committee, which results in an imbalance in decision-making abilities.

Simply scheduling a committee meeting can be a problem, as each representative has his or her priorities. If the project manager needs buy-in before going ahead with some important change, he or she may not be able to get it in time if a steering committee meeting is required and a meeting can’t be set up quickly.

Even with the best intentions, the steering committee might slow the project down to a halt, due to slow decision-making or excessive analysis, a phenomenon known in some circles as paralysis by analysis.

Finally, while steering committees are frequently formed to minimize scope creep, they can actually wind up being the cause of scope creep. Each sponsor feels the need to get his or her favorite requirements in; and sometimes they trade with one another like senators in congress do to get a bill passed. The result is a convoluted project plan. As the adage goes, “a camel is a horse designed by committee.”

Like many veterans, I concluded a long time ago that steering committees are a necessary evil that needs to be managed to keep them from taking on evil lives of their own. Along those lines, here are some best practices for setting up and running steering committees:

• Make sure each organization is represented on the committee by someone with adequate decision-making authority.
• Hold regular committee meetings planned well in advance.
• Make it clear to all parties that these meetings will be held exactly on the dates and times planned, and they will be the official fora for information-sharing and decision-making.
• Establish rules for how the meetings will be run, including who runs them and how long they last.
• Publish agendas and minutes not only to invitees, but also to higher-ups in each of the organizations.

While project management is both an art and a science, keeping multiple stakeholders constructively involved in a project lies more in the realm of art.