Learn the keys to project management success

Yogi SchulzAny project that hopes to succeed needs a project sponsor, an executive who can champion the initiative and help guide it to victory. Project sponsors must be more than figureheads; they must also find the right balance of involvement in the project. Too hands-off and the project will flounder; too hands-on and the project team will suffocate.

It’s not an easy job, and it has not had an instruction manual. Until now. In A Project Sponsor’s Warp-Speed Guide – Improving Project Performance, my co-author Jocelyn Lapointe and I provide the tools to help over-burdened project sponsors understand their role and position their project for success.

Are you new to the project sponsor role or want to improve? Start by assessing your project’s feasibility.

Make sure your project is feasible

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The construction of the John Hancock Tower in Boston, Massachusetts, encountered multiple engineering problems, including the following:

  1. A bungled excavation damaged the nearby Trinity Church.
  2. Windows, each weighing 500 pounds, popped out of the building during high winds. The problem was a design flaw, so all 10,334 panes of glass had to be replaced.
  3. The tower swayed in the wind to a dangerous degree. The solution required interior reinforcing to prevent walls and partitions from cracking in high winds.

The problems delayed the building opening from 1971 to 1976 and increased the cost from $75 million to $175 million. You must wonder how well the engineers and architects conducted the feasibility of the project.

Feasibility is the first project phase. It determines if the business case is valid and the organization can deliver the intended outcome by describing the project in the charter document.

Don’t feel bad about not starting or quickly closing a project that is not feasible or viable. Don’t waste resources attempting or continuing a project if you aren’t sure of its value. You can position a cancellation as avoiding waste. Don’t allow others to spin early cancellation as a failure.

Has a senior project sponsor been appointed?

As a project sponsor, you are responsible for management oversight of the project. In addition, you are the link between the project to senior management and business stakeholders that keeps everyone informed and aligned.

Consider the table below and circle the observations that apply to your project, whether low-risk or high-risk.

If you circled one or more high-risk observations, identify a project sponsor ASAP! It’s probably you! Identify a better candidate if you are the current sponsor but don’t think you should be. Projects should never start without a project sponsor in place.

Pro tip: If it’s your first time acting as a project sponsor, it’s okay to admit that to yourself but not your boss. Experienced project managers can coach you in the role. Our book will help you develop into a better project sponsor.

Has a capable project manager been engaged?

The project manager leads the project across the finish line. The project manager also connects the team to the project sponsor and steering committee.

If you circled one or more high-risk observations, urgently engage a competent, dedicated project manager. Nothing useful will occur until you do. Once a candidate has been hired, meet with the person to discuss your expectations for the project.

Pro tip: Your project manager must be highly confident that you, as a project sponsor, will support them in communicating and supporting project recommendations to stakeholders when complex issues arise. Suppose the project manager starts to sense they will be the scapegoat for project shortcomings. In that case, an experienced project manager will begin to think about how to exit the project quietly. Such an outcome can reflect poorly on the project sponsor’s reputation and the team’s effectiveness.

Does an appealing business case exist?

An appealing business case illustrates that the tangible benefits that a completed project can achieve are many times the estimated project cost.

Starting a project without a business case is like trying to hit a bull’s eye with a dart while blindfolded. You’ll never reach your project goal. The feasibility phase is the right time to create the business case.

Pro tip: Deciding to turn down a proposed project is not a failure. It’s a successful outcome of the business case evaluation. Don’t spend money on proposed projects when you aren’t confident they will work! Common reasons for turning down a proposed project include insufficient confidence that the project can:

  1. Achieve the project goal no matter how appealing
  2. Deliver enough net benefit to justify the investment in dollars and resources
  3. Mitigate the identified risks sufficiently to achieve the project goal

You can explore these and other topics in more detail in our new book, A Project Sponsor’s Warp-Speed Guide – Improving Project Performance, now available from Amazon.

Yogi Schulz has over 40 years of information technology experience in various industries. Yogi works extensively in the petroleum industry. He manages projects that arise from changes in business requirements, the need to leverage technology opportunities, and mergers. His specialties include IT strategy, web strategy and project management.

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The opinions expressed by our columnists and contributors are theirs alone and do not inherently or expressly reflect the views of our publication.

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