Complex Project Sponsorship

Often in IT Projects, the sponsorship of a project is not simple.  Often there a many stakeholders who have a significant interest in the project.  This is common when we are working on a data warehousing project.  Many different groups have vested interest in the project.  These interest might also come in conflict.  In particular problems will arise if one group is responsible for the requirements and another for the budget.   What are some actions you can take to mitigate the problems?

My first advice is to try to simplify things.  Harvey used to say "I am a simple man so you must make it simple for me."  That means in your mind deciding who really cares and make sure they are supporting your activity.  They will go to bat for you and clear away obstacles.  In addition some of the people have more influence and power in an organization.  I have found it does not necessarily follow from the organization chart.  Some people just know how to get things done.

I have also taken on a role of communication medium between all the various interest especially if the group do not meet with each other for various reasons.  Often groups have history which inhibits good communications and trust.  By focusing on the objective of the project and repeating it frequently sometimes you can get people all looking in the same direction.  I often visualize the objective as something which you can point to on a wall or in the centre of the table and metaphorically getting them all to look the objective as oppose to each other.  Shuttle diplomacy really works. 

Another thing to remember is that nobody means to do the wrong thing.  It may appear wrong to you, but from their perspective it is right.  The problem is to see it from their perspective.  I often become very confused and admit it.  I then asked for help in joining the points along a logical path.  Often the explanation will clear up the confusion and you have better idea why the apparent conflict exist.  Then you can set about getting the players to focus on the goal.

Usually complex projects means that many people in an organization have to change the way they have always done things.  Some people may not even understand why they do things they do but just know it works.  For them to step into the unknown is scary.  These people need support and help from the people they trust who can help them make the change.  Often simplifying things will help because many people do not need to understand the complete system just their part.   Make it simple and low risk.

We all know on complex projects not everything will be exactly as we expect even with extensive testing.   By letting people know that things may not go exactly as they hoped and giving them ways of getting help is important.  Eventually as they gain experience with the system they will learn the things that do not work well and avoid them. 

A real key to success of a project is for people to know that the project is important to their "real boss".  A note or email from the project sponsor or sponsors telling people how important the project to the sponsor and thanking them in advance for their support will help.

I am sure there are lots of ideas and experiences people have.  Like to hear some ideas.

  1. Jim Hayward Reply

    Jennifer, Project X has adopted the early win approach as Rapid Results. The challenge to to design a initial project that gives people the first taste of success.
    I must check out The Power of Habit. Sounds very wise. I am a strong believer in the importance and power of habits. If we can develop positive habits, we can really make a difference.
    Thank you for triggering some great memories.

  2. Jennifer Copeland Reply

    Hey Jim. Your post struck a chord with me. Where I work, it is sometimes the case that the senior management team who make the buying decision to purchase the MIS system we sell are not necessarily the same folks who are expected to do the often challenging work of implementing the new system and then using it. The end users may or may not share the enthusiasm for our system. They are sometimes perfectly happy with the status quo and can occasionally be reluctant to embrace a new system, possibly new workflows, new technology, etc.
    But here’s some wisdom from Charles Duhigg’s new book The Power of Habit, excerpted in today’s Globe and Mail. The author is discussing sports training, but I think has something to say to a broader audience. Duhigg quotes a Cornell professor:
    “Small wins are a steady application of a small advantage. Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favour another small win”
    Duhigg goes on to say:
    “Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach.”
    This brought back memories of our Gellman Hayward mantra of structuring a project so that it is ‘loaded for success’. My takeaway reminder from all this is to steer a project in its early days towards its first win, give the user their first taste of success, and then hopefully buy in and momentum will follow.

  3. Jim Hayward Reply

    Thanks, Tim, for your comment. Yes, readiness is really key. Sometimes the sponsor needs some help in communicating with the other parties. They are willing to do something but not sure what to do.
    Trying to achieve some Rapid Results can provide a testing ground to readiness for a change. So rather than trying to complete the whole project, one small step can really help give people courage and readiness to make a bigger step.
    In old days when we worked together we called these breakthroughs.
    Creativity is always the key and every situation requires its own design, no simple cookie cutter approach.

  4. Tim Attia Reply

    I think you once told me many moons ago (mid 90s) that people will only do what they are ready to do. It stuck with me. For me this does help explain why things go wrong even though we do the right things like sponsorship and some other points you make. They do however help the ones that are ready to take the next step.

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