15 August 2009

Ensuring That the Project Team Has Sufficient Interaction With Sponsors

In a recent post I outlined eight signs that are leading indicators for a project that can be expected not to reach its goals and targets in a timely manner. This post will highlight how best to deal with the fifth of these signs, a project a team that has very limited interaction with sponsors.

Why is this a problem? This is a leading indicator for problems because it means that the project team is not using a key resource for advancing the project. The project team should be using the sponsors to a) check that that the project is heading in the right direction and to get guidance on key issues, b) to get information about key environmental changes that can have an impact on the project, c) to use the sponsors to help deal with logistical issues (getting into the agenda of key information sources, getting additional resources and/or data, etc), and d) to pre-communicate and test key findings and possible conclusions / recommendations.

If the team is choosing not to use this resource, delays are very probable (as limited time is likely to be the reason that the project team is not seeing the sponsors), and, most importantly, quality of the project results will suffer. Lower quality will primarily be a consequence of not having given the sponsors the opportunity to provide corrective input if the team is going in a wrong direction (due either to wrong assumptions or changes in business environment). In addition, timing and deadlines are likely to suffer due to the project team not using the sponsors pro-actively for logistical issues. Finally, getting overall acceptance for key recommendations is likely to be more difficult if the project team has not pre-communicated initial ideas and preliminary conclusions to important sponsors.

What do I do when I see this problem? A key complexity in this situation is that it is very likely that the main sponsor is part of the problem. The first part of my solution therefore involves a discussion with the sponsor where I ask a series of questions. Does the team understand that you want to be involved? Have you made time available for the team when they have requested this, or have you cancelled the last three meetings?

If the sponsor agrees that he/she is part of the problem, then he/she will need to make a special effort to help get the team back on track. My advice to the sponsor is usually to call in the team for a meeting, and set a clear agenda for the meeting. The agenda should cover issues such as overall progress, key issues the team is facing, logistical road-blocks, initial ideas and theories, etc. The meeting should end with an agreement to meet again in the near future, and an agreed plan to meet the other project sponsors. Typically, I need to explain to the sponsor that he/she will to help the team set up these meetings. My experience with getting the sponsor more involved is that the team is very happy with this input, and that it often is possible to get the project back on track fairly quickly.

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