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How to smash it as a project sponsor

Colin Ellis | Nov. 28, 2014
Project management greatness awaits those who can master governance, use an agile development environment, motivate teams, take planning seriously, and pick the right manager.

Most projects fail before they get started because the project sponsor insists that the project manager skips the planning to proceed straight to delivery, usually because too much time has been spent trying to justify something.

If I had a dollar for every time I'd heard 'we just need to get it started', I'd have about $43. However, in order for a project to meet its targets it needs a great plan.

One that details what will be delivered, who will be responsible, the time it will take and the engagement required to ensure that it's as good as it can be.

Far from skipping the planning stage, you need to insist that the project manager produces something they can hang their reputation on and that you're an active part of.

Being part of planning will ensure that you send the message that you're taking this seriously and if you can make the time, so can everyone else.

You can also start to gauge the level of influence, control and knowledge (of project management) that the project manager has. Treat it as an early warning siren.

Asking a project manager to short cut the planning process is like asking a dentist to pull a tooth without anaesthetic. They can do it, but there'll be a boat load of pain for all involved all the way through.

If you are the only person interested, you should stop it
Most projects start with the best of intentions. Returns on investment are discussed early and if you're really on to it, written down. Everyone is energised around finding a solution to a particular problem and have no preconceived ideas about what that solution should be.

Sometimes though, that enthusiasm quickly wanes and you find yourself all alone trying to motivate your peers and senior leadership team about the continuing need to solve the problem.

The problem won't have gone away, however it's likely that other projects or business as usual work have taken priority. Or else your peers just don't care enough any more about the problem. It happens.

When it does happen, you need to decide early whether you're going to continue to try and build impetus or put it into mothballs. It's one or the other. Doing the project 'to everyone' hasn't worked since Y2K and it only worked then because we told them that planes were going to fall out of the sky.

If you wish to do the former, then it requires escalation and visible executive support. Project sponsors need support just as much as project managers do. If you don't have it, then you need to act.

You need to manage the project manager
Lots of projects fail because the project manager just isn't up to the job. I know...who knew? But behind every poor project manager is a project sponsor that failed to act. Managing the project manager is your job. Always will be. It's a relationship you need to develop early.


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