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The Executive Connection in Enterprise Project Management

executiveconnectionWhen I write about enterprise project management implementations, I tend to speak often in articles I write about making sure you have a good executive sponsor or support from the executive branch of your organization, (but it’s rare for me to talk about just how executives get involved in an epm initiative). Let’s correct that today.

Senior management can be either a help or a hindrance to an epm project and the deciding factor has everything to do with the preconceived notions the executive or executives in question bring to the table. Let’s take a look for a moment at the possible states in which you might find the relevant senior executive for your epm deployment.

What Senior Executive?

In some organizations, there’s a challenge in just identifying such an executive. It’s not that there’s not senior management involved, but the notion that enterprise project management is something that the enterprise’s executives need to involve themselves in is foreign. So, the project management staff struggle to find someone who will champion their cause in the executive suite. This can be complicated by the very common organizational challenge of having the Project Management Office designed as a dotted-line responsibility with really no direct chain of command over where they fit.

Why Isn’t It Done Already?

By far the most common challenge I encounter when talking to senior management is a gross underestimation of how big a challenge en EPM deployment might be. An appreciation of the processes that must be either created or adapted, the number of people within the organization who will be affected and the degree to which an epm deployment can change basic business practices is often lacking. I can’t possibly describe how many times I’m asked if the epm deployment could be completed within a week or 10 days. Or, after having given a proposal for several months of work that I’ve been asked. “Ok, so what could you do within 5 days?”

Didn’t I Buy Software for That?

Often the preconception from senior management is that epm is a tool issue and if they’ve signed the purchase order for the software then epm should have arrived already. This preconception isn’t helped by software vendors who call their tools “EPM”. Microsoft sells a product called Microsoft Project and another called Project Server but the combination is referred to as the Microsoft EPM Solution or just EPM for short. It’s easy to get an executive who confuses the two conversations, one being for the software, the other being for the whole concept and have him or her say “But I bought EPM already.”

That’s an Overhead Project

This may well be true but the implication is that an epm deployment must be done in spare time rather than being a strategic initiative. The problem with this is that the resources, the time and the money that will be required to give the project a fighting chance will be either impossible to come by or (more likely) will get reallocated at will in mid-project.

I’m Fully Committed to the Project… (for the next 10 minutes)

I see this quite a lot. There’s an executive in the kick-off meeting for the epm implementation who indicates that he or she is “fully committed” to the project. But, when I ask them how long they expect they’ll need to be involved the response is measured in days. When I tell them they’ll probably need to have active regular involvement in the project for 6 to 24 months I often get a jaw-dropping shocked look.

Let’s Get it Right the Second Time

It will sound odd, but I’m often quite happy to arrive at an organization for their second try at deploying enterprise project management. It’s not like I’m delighted for the first failed attempt but often an organization that has tried to implement epm unsuccessfully takes it much more seriously the second time around. When I arrive at such an organization and meet an executive who saw how the project didn’t work the first time, it’s often much easier to establish a partnership.

Ok! So those may be the most common preconceived notions that we encounter with executives, and if you are an executive or know an executive you may even recognize yourself or others in the descriptions above. That being said, how do you go about getting appropriate executive support for your implementation?

Find the Right Person

Sometimes just finding the right executive is more than half the battle. It’s possible that given your organizational structure that you’re stuck with whom you’ve got, but in some organizations there may be more than one executive who could be approached as the sponsor for this project. Choosing one with more experience or a willingness to understand the complexity of the project can make a huge difference.

It’s a Change-Management Project

There are two easy pitfalls to avoid. One is agreeing when senior management qualifies the project as a “training” project. The other is to not agree when they try to qualify this as a “software” project. Neither is true. The big challenge with deploying epm is not the training or the software. Both of those are a few days of work. The challenge is the change-management aspect. Implementing epm, if successful, will change how people work. It will fundamentally change how certain business decisions are made. It’s when senior management really understand that how they approach the project is immediately very, very different.

Use a Lifeline – Phone a Friend

One of the best things you can do is find a way to connect your executive sponsor with a counterpart in another organization that has successfully deployed epm. If you’re looking at software, the software vendors will hopefully be able to point you to some good references. If not, then networking with your other project management colleagues and asking for assistance in doing a site visit can make a world of difference.

Ultimately the most important thing you can do to get proper sponsorship is something I’ve recommended in different ways many times before. Treat your enterprise project management project like a project. I know, it sounds strange right? It’s not. Make sure your project is aligned with corporate strategy. Make sure it has a budget. Do you have a charter? A schedule?

Doing the project management things you already know how to do in your own project infrastructure always makes the most profound difference of all.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below

Chris Vandersluis is the founder and president of HMS Software based in Montreal, Canada. He has an economics degree from Montreal’s McGill University and over 22 years experience in the automation of project control systems. He is a long-standing member of both the Project Management Institute (PMI) and the American Association of Cost Engineers (AACE) and is the founder of the Montreal Chapter of the Microsoft Project Association. Mr. Vandersluis has been published in numerous publications including Fortune Magazine, Heavy Construction News, the Ivey Business Journal, PMI’s PMNetwork and Computing Canada. Mr. Vandersluis has been part of the Microsoft Enterprise Project Management Partner Advisory Council since 2003. He teaches Advanced Project Management at McGill University’s Executive Institute. He can be reached at [email protected].

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