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Author: Tarryn-Leigh Frans

3 Signs That You Are a Bad Project Sponsor

Trying to deliver a project without an engaged sponsor is like starting a voyage on a ship without a captain, crew, lifeboat or even a planned route.

However, that is a situation many Project Managers find themselves in (present company included!) We all know that strong executive sponsorship can make or break any project but do we truly understand the effects of bad sponsorship? According to PMI’s Pulse of the Profession Report for 2016 (An Annual Report on the State of Project Management), actively engaged executive sponsors were “by far the top driver of projects meeting their original goals and business intent.” The same project management research also found that one in three failed projects link to poorly-engaged executive sponsorship.

If you are struggling to make sense of the fact that executive sponsorship can be a top driver of goal achievement, and yet also directly linked to one-third of all project management failures, then you are not alone. In project management 101 we are all taught that your project sponsor is there to remove any obstacles that prevent the team from achieving the project’s objectives. However, how do you know when you, as the project sponsor are the problem? Importantly, how do you fix it? Now, this can be a real dilemma for any project management team, but I think I have managed to recognize the behaviors of a bad sponsor.

Behavior 1: Listen, I have got a pile of work to get through today, so I will not make today’s Steering Committee Meeting

Keeping a project running can be tough on a normal day (project management is not for sissies). So, imagine when you throw in things like a changing external environment, lack of resources, scope creep, etc.? Nothing is more frustrating for a project manager than sitting through a Steering Committee meeting and struggling to get the support and co-operation of the project sponsors. As the name suggests, the purpose of the steering committee meeting is for the project sponsor to steer the project to success from the start to the completion, give strategic direction and support the project manager.

I would like to believe that the project sponsor and project manager are in a partnership for the duration of the project. For this to be a successful partnership, the sponsor needs to be connected to the project manager and the project team. To do this, you must be present! Meeting with the project manager before the meeting and specifically discussing what they need from you during the session is crucial. Reviewing the Steering Committee pack and listing the talking points helps to keep the focus on those critical items. If you are a remote sponsor, too busy to meet to discuss progress or review status reports, then these are all warning signs that it is probably time for you to make a change or walk away.

Behavior 2: I need you to analyze, collect data, analyze more, and search for more data of all ten scenarios before I can make a decision

No decision is worse than a bad decision! If you are a project sponsor delaying a decision, you are inevitably delaying the work needed to deliver the project. Guess what? Spending more time gathering information or convincing yourself that the data is inconclusive is unlikely to help. Listen to your intuition and make the call, nobody is going to do it for you. Even with a bad decision, the project team can plan the execution, understand the risks and develop mitigations if the cracks start to appear.

Project managers are always willing to share their views so use this to your advantage. Ask for proposals and get them to explain the limitations of each option. In my experience, detailed explanations and logical counterarguments might not get you to the right decision, but it will lead you to an informed decision. If you find yourself avoiding even the simple decision (like approving project management documents), then you have a problem. It is a matter of time until it reaches critical status and you are heading for real trouble (and so is your project).

Behavior 3: I have no idea what success looks like, but I will be sure to hold you responsible when I do not get it

Are you a project sponsor that is often surprised when the deliverables are not what you expected? Wanted a rollercoaster and got a swing instead? Chances are during the project management process you have not spent enough time defining what success looks like at the end of the project.

Resist the urge to go with the generic success factors like defect-free products, improved partnerships, and happy customers. Instead, spend the time during the project definition phase to understand project success and how it will be measured objectively. If you have not had a chance to complete this sentence, “I will consider this project a success if…” then it is likely that you and the project team have no idea on what success looks like and I doubt you will ever get there.

It is just not enough to be assigned in name as the project sponsor on a project. You must be the right person for the job, with enough capacity to do it right. At Project Portfolio Office (PPO) our project management methodology defines what a sponsor’s responsibilities are, what they are involved with and what authority they have. By having this, it will serve as a reminder to you of what your project team’s expectations are of you and increase the value of project management in your business

frans 050517 1There’s a lot more signs that show when you are a bad sponsor, but I thought these would be a great place to start. Spend some time thinking back to the last few projects, and you might uncover why the project team was hampered from delivering successful projects!
Alternatively, I have got it all wrong and guilty of deferring the problem! Share your project management experience below!

3 Things Great Project Management Offices Do Differently for Awesome Customer Experiences

When considering the mandate of traditional project management offices (PMOs), the territory of customer service and thus a great customer experience (CX) is usually left uncharted.

The week leading up to the latest installment of the PMO Forum (a special interest group for PMO Leaders and Executives), I got really excited to explore customer experience within project management offices. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Customer Experience Management (CX) are more often associated with sales and marketing teams than with project management offices, but I was keen to understand how it could aid project management offices.

The Project Management Institute (PMI) reports that 90% of large enterprises have active project management offices. Furthermore, they report that 50% close in three years only to be replaced later by another PMO with significant time and cost to these organizations. In my view, the success of a project management office today relies not on better adherence to governance and methodologies, but the ability to demonstrate value, establish trust and build relationships with their internal and external customers.

Customer Experience Focus

With customer expectations continuously increasing, I’m finding that more and more businesses are dedicating significant amounts of time and effort to CX initiatives (both externally and internally) with the aim of achieving a strategic advantage over their competitors. Gartner’s surveys confirm that customer experience is the new battlefield with 89% of companies expecting to compete mostly on the basis of customer experience, versus 36% four years ago. So, why should it be any different for a project management office? The PMO may not need to get knee-deep in customer relationship management, but it does need to build trust and credibility with their stakeholders and focus on customer experience, which will become the secret to their success.

Here’s my view on what it takes to align people, process, technology and governance to build a customer-focused PMO that delivers a great customer experience:

1. Do you have the right people?

Your project management office’s identity is defined by its resources, especially when it comes to customer experience. If CRM and CX are not already part of what you do, this undoubtedly means you need a change in the vision for your PMO, so begin hiring for the vision. Start with hiring the right project managers, business analysts and project office support staff that are collaborative, responsive and put the customer (both internal and external) in the center of everything they do. It’s not always as easy as just employing new people; so if that’s not an option, then train for the vision. Introduce a strong onboarding process that re-enforces the new normal. Equip your resources with the soft skills and emotional intelligence training required to deliver customer-centric projects. Ensure your resources value customer experience above governance compliance.

2. Is the process killing the experience?

Over the years, I’ve witnessed a number of project management offices that are so focused on enforcing the project process, that they often lose sight of the fact that the process is just an enabler to ultimately delivering projects successfully. Don’t get me wrong, the process and discipline are key to a successful project management office, but the truth is that PMOs are too often seen as an expensive overhead from the business’ point of view, especially when there’s too much focus on the process with little real business value in return. Organizations with a project management culture that leans toward adherence to process, structure and policing of control mechanisms are likely to struggle to implement any customer-centric approach. Start by taking a critical look at your methodology and project processes, and consider the experience of your customer. Spend time engaging with your customers and understand their needs, their experience and perceptions of your project management office. Identify the processes that facilitate customer engagement and help you to get to know your customers better and prioritize these over maintaining the governance status quo. Having a cup of coffee with your customer outside the day-to-day pressures of the project will help gain a much better understanding of their experience and perception of your PMO.

3. Do you measure the things that matter at the right time?

We all know that too many project teams only turn their focus from time, cost and scope to the health of their customer relationships when stakeholders are already upset, or during project closure as part of the tick box “lessons learned” exercise. If this is your PMO, then I’m afraid your efforts will be falling short. PMOs measuring customer satisfaction throughout the process are much more likely to get more truthful and unbiased feedback than those that leave it to the end. Regular measurement also gives you the opportunity to take action, give feedback and improve the customer experience all year round. It’s critical that you keep the satisfaction scoring criteria simple, know what you’re measuring and be clear on what a happy customer looks like. Don’t confuse the measurement of project delivery, the project manager’s skills and competence with the customer experience. From my experience as a CEO of a Software as a Service (SaaS) company, the Net Promoter Score (NPS) process is the best to use. Start by asking “Would you recommend our project management office to a colleague?” and follow through on a process to measure and address the responses. I’ve done this with a number of our customers, and they find massive value in the experience and process.

In Summary

Adopting this mindset is a journey and better managing the relationships between the project management office team and their stakeholders will naturally keep them more engaged and excited to reach project success. This shift will not happen overnight, and the chances are that you’ll falter and fall back into the project tick box mindset when overwhelmed and under pressure. Don’t give up! Consider the only alternative, which is another PMO closed within three years. Contact me if you’re keen to explore the NPS survey as step one in driving greater customer experience within your project management office. Good luck!

Here’s to happy customers and thus greater customer experiences!