Project disasters often start at the top – with the project sponsor. Sponsors rarely set out to be difficult, hard to get hold of or disengaged, but it often happens. Why is that?
There are a number of possible reasons. Here are some typical ones:
- They are usually senior managers or executives and already have busy and demanding day jobs before they take on sponsorship of your project.
- They have probably never been trained to be a project sponsor.
- They don’t understand project management and may never have been involved in a project, never mind having run one.
- They don’t understand the role they play and how vital it is.
- Are they at the right level of seniority? Too junior and they won’t have the real authority and accountability to undertake the job and make the necessary decisions. Too senior and they won’t have the time or detailed business knowledge to make timely and effective contributions.
- Are they accessible? As a project or programme manager I like – no, need! – to have direct access to my sponsor. I try to get two 30 minute slots a week in the diary where we can discuss the general progress and any issues or concerns I or the sponsor have. If both agree there is nothing to discuss, they can be cancelled, but I like to have them there in case. One programme I ran the PMO for had a senior executive as sponsor but the programme manager always had to go through his own line manager before he could get to the sponsor. As his line manager was responsible for a number of major programmes this added an unnecessary roadblock to effective communications with the sponsor.
So we have identified a number of reasons why sponsors become disengaged. How do we prevent them or go about re-engaging the sponsor?
Your sponsor is your number 1 stakeholder and so should be the focus of your initial stakeholder engagement. Find out as much about them as possible:
• What is their background, what experience do they have of projects and programmes.
• What are they looking to get from the project. Try to understand their WiiFM factors – What’s in it For Me!
• Get to meet them and push for the regular direct dialogue I described above. In those meetings set out what you need to get from them and why it is important.
• If they are unfamiliar with projects, send them a copy of my Reference Guide for Project Boards (click the link, it’s free to download for registered readers of my blog/newsletter).
• Lay out the project plan in a simple high level form and show the critical points when key decisions are required or their support will be critical. If there are clashes with their schedule this will highlight them and you can work on solutions now, rather than getting surprises later.
You are seeking to establish a rapport, an open channel of communications and above all else, trust. With your sponsor onside, tackling all the other signs of potential project disaster just became that little bit easier.
This blog post is the first in a series of daily posts describing 14 potential signs of project disaster and how to avoid them. Don’t sleepwalk into disaster – sign up here (or click on the image) for the 14 day “Project Disaster Avoidance Challenge” and get the full series of posts daily in your inbox.
Allen has been working with clients for the last ten years to establish and develop their project and programme management capabilities. Prior to moving in to consultancy, he spent over 20 years working for a number of blue-chip organisations and has been part of, or led a number of initiatives to build an organisational project management capability. Sign up for Allen’s blog and get his free e-book: A guide to Effective Project Management