Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Avoid Conflict with Your Project Sponsor

Advance your career by engaging — and not enraging — project sponsors. 

Project sponsors provide financial and political support — but they might not always know the day-to-day details of how an initiative is faring.

A key role of project managers is to monitor constraints. More often than not, they know better than anyone what’s best for the project.

To minimize conflict (and the negative effects on their career), project managers should define their roles and responsibilities at the outset. It must be clear who is responsible for making what decisions.

“Projects resemble an hourglass,” says David West, senior technical director at WSP Group, an engineering consultancy in London, England, and author of Project Sponsorship: An Essential Guide for Those Sponsoring Projects Within Their Organizations.

“The bottom half of the hourglass is the project team of consultants, designers and contractors who will deliver the project,” he explains.

“The top half of the hourglass is the organization investing in the project and all the parts of the organization that will be affected by or influence the project. At the neck of the hourglass, back to back, stand the project sponsor and project manager, the sponsor managing the top half and the project manager running the bottom half.”

Speak the sponsor’s language, suggests Kiron D. Bondale, PMP, director of the corporate project management office at Agricorp in Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

“Sponsors may not be project management specialists, so it behooves the project manager to effectively explain the rationale behind certain recommendations,” he says.
Talk in plain terms about time and money so the sponsor can make informed decisions based on the business case.
“If you need a decision made, you literally need to send a meeting invite that says, ‘Decision required: A, B or C — here are the implications of each,’” says Ken Hanley, author of Guerrilla Project Management and principal at KTH Program and Project Management Inc., a program and project management consultancy in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Sponsors and project managers may not see eye-to-eye on certain decisions. Be prepared to argue your case with the sponsor on the issues within your domain, such as the delivery of the project.

“If the sponsor’s decision will send the project or business over a cliff, it is the responsibility of the project manager to ensure that the sponsor and other decision-makers are aware of the risks they are taking and to try to provide them with sufficient analysis supporting the concerns raised,” Mr. Bondale adds.

Gaining support from others involved in the project doesn’t hurt, either.

“If there are peer-level stakeholders to the sponsor whom the sponsor respects and who support your view, you could engage their support in trying to sway the sponsor,” Mr. Bondale says.

When you do speak up to a project sponsor, you must do so tactfully. You don’t want to undermine them, but you must state your case. Have any potentially damaging conversations in private.

“Nobody likes being told they’re wrong in front of others,” Mr. West says. “If the project manager thinks the project sponsor is making an error, he or she should first try to understand what is causing this error.”

Although project managers have a responsibility to voice concerns, some sponsors might not want to consider another view. In the event of disagreements, be sure to document the issues with comprehensive written records.

“If the sponsor refuses to change their mind, it’s a good idea to document the decision and the alternatives — including yours — and get the sponsor to sign off on it,” Mr. Bondale says. “If the worst happens as a result of the decision, at least you have some evidence that alternatives were considered and the sponsor chose to continue down his preferred path.”

At the end of the day, you are the project lead. With a little tact and a lot of support, you can avoid doing any damage to your relationship with your sponsor — or your career.
Article shared from PMI:

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