Friday, January 13, 2012

Managing up to keep your projects from falling down

Seeing a project through to successful completion takes everyone involved. While champions for the content and process are needed among stakeholders, there are two roles that are extremely critical to the successful delivery of the project: sponsor and project manager (PM).  These roles have a symbiotic relationship, which require constant collaboration and observance of respective responsibilities to meet project objectives.

Enthusiasm, motivation, and sense of purpose among stakeholders break down when the PM and the sponsor are not equally committed to the project process and outcome.  The project will likely fail when the PM and sponsor are experiencing the following:

  • Lack of alignment or common direction
  • Constantly coping with changing priorities which result in crisis management
  • Actions on agreements are not consistent with decisions made
  • Communication and collaboration are inhibited
  • Questionable strategies are accepted out of fear of retaliation
  • Reactionary environment prevents using proven processes
  • Executive management support is lacking or variable
  • Competing agendas and priorities result in “turf politics”

This is such a critical relationship that I actually did a webinar about it this week for Systemation titled Managing Up -- Keeping your projects from falling down. Have a look at it below. It's got a lot of extra info not found in this blog post that also considers the relationship with all senior management. You can also hear the original recording here.
While these issues may seem daunting, they can be overcome with clearly defined roles and responsibilities that support a collaborative approach to meeting the project objectives.  Ground rules for authority, project planning, establishing estimates, and executing & controlling the project provide a touchstone for affirming commitment and care for the project. 

Sponsors can better support PMs, who typically function among stakeholders without authority, when they give authority and communicate support regularly.  PMs should seek out and accept authority to commit resources and lead the project.

Once authority is established, planning the project is the next priority.  For PMs to be successful with this step, they should manage stakeholder expectations, use the project management process, and adhere to ethical principles.  While sponsors should not be involved in the day-to-day activities of planning, it is important that they set expectations, support planning activities, and validate project scope. Micro-management is a red flag that needs exploring immediately. When this starts happening, consider the following questions: Why now? What's changed? What are you not giving senior management or the sponsor that they may need? Are your respective styles at odds? Are you supporting their "burning platform" needs for the project?

Throughout the planning process estimates will be adjusted as modifications and changes are made.  Establishing estimates and making adjustments should be made with consideration for managing the triple constraint of time, cost, & scope. Don't fall into the trap of agreeing to unrealistic estimates. Heroics just lead to burnout of resources and ultimately the project. Focus on the big picture and know the project details like the back of your hand so you can speak to consequences and make recommendations that are more realistic.

Executing & controlling the project takes time and consideration. Sponsors can support this step by requiring that project performance metrics and control procedures are in place and by holding PMs accountable, breaking down barriers cross-functionally, and not “shooting the messenger” when bad news is delivered.  PMs, with the team, must identify and verify performance metrics, assess and respond to change, communicate needs, and not wait to share bad news. If you're interested in help with this, check out this slideshow about how to deliver bad news in good ways

Observing these tips facilitates a collaborative approach and supports the sponsor and the PM being equally committed to the project.

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