Ensure Strong Executive Sponsorship — Tips from Project Failure Blog

I’m commenting on the project success checklist at Michael Krigsman’s Project Failure Blog.. My comments are scattered among his notes (excerpted below). I’d love to hear your comments on the details behind some of these factors as we go …

3. Ensure strong executive sponsorship — Even after achieving buy-in from the three key stakeholder groups, strong leadership is a decisive success factor.

Agreed…we manage leadership as a separate stakeholder group from “the business.”  We do both a fairly standard stakeholder analysis — how impacted, how to engage, level of concern, power, support/resistance — and set up a detailed face-off matrix among stakeholders (e.g., customer, partner, SAP executives at each level).

While these groups may share overlapping goals, disagreements and conflict can occur as the project progresses, especially when priorities and resource allocations need mid-stream adjustments.

Resolving and prioritizing these topics are two of the most important functions of sponsors.  Here are two positive examples:

  • Communication of the business case, which is faciliated by early and systematic reviews of the project’s “founding documents” (e.g., the contract, SOWs, capital committee business case).
  • Reinforcement of the business case, for example through active participation in change control boards.  There is nothing like a senior manager asking why a development team is proposing something like screen development for a process that isn’t even in scope until the next program phase.

Poor stakeholder management drives our negative lessons learned, with two leadership behaviors especially harmful:

  • Project managers who did not fit into, or could not adapt to, stakeholder cultures, mission-critical projects, etc. were reluctant to escalate projects quickly enough.  This reluctance was driven by ignorance; in other words, the project manager was not sufficiently in the loop to know when, how, or to whom to escalate.
  • The most frequent communications mistake was failure to execute planned executive-level messaging, which eroded the project manager’s position in the eyes of sponsors and other leaders.  An example is consistenly prioritizing project issue resolution over a leadership one-on-one.  This behavior reinforces a common trap for inexperienced PMs: returning to the comfort zone of hands-on work at the expense of relationship management.

A strong executive sponsor brings consensus to the team, preventing organizational gridlock or “management by committee.”

I’m more a believer in “commitment” rather than consensus.  Per Max Wideman, consensus is most important at an initiative’s start (he actually contrasts “consent vs. consensus”).  As scope, time, cost, resources, etc. are adjusted as the reality of the project manifests itself, consensus becomes more and more elusive.

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One Response

  1. […] know how critical project communication is to project success.   A compelling story can build strong sponsorship and sustain stakeholder commitment, even in the most challenging of circumstances (also see […]

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