Project managers generally have oodles of responsibility but limited authority. They seldom have any significant control over the five W’s (the who, when, what, where and why of the planned change). Their primary focus is usually figuring out how to take the many diverse (and often unstated) wishes of the project stakeholders and juggle those into a timely, cost-effective and quality implementation. Something like herding cats! Yet, for all the obstacles PM’s face, their greatest challenge (and opportunity) is to become the sponsor’s best friend. And, visa versa.
In this blog, we’ll explore the difference great PM’s make (or could have made) to real world project experiences. We’ll look at how they worked with (or could have supported) the project sponsor and the other project stakeholders to ensure a successful implementation. But first, some background so that we can share a common understanding and apply a standard set of principles to the project experiences.
I’ll use my Project Pre-Check practice as the vehicle for assessing project and PM performance. It is based on this premise: If the stakeholders for a given change are actively involved in and agree with each decision, and all the vital decisions are addressed, the project will be successful. Great PM’s use these fundamentals every day.
Project Pre-Check relies on three building blocks to ensure that premise becomes a reality; the stakeholders, the processes that the stakeholders follow and the decision framework that facilitates stakeholder decision-making. I look to PM’s to bring this foundation to every project they tackle, using a formal practice like Project Pre-Check or their own combinations of wisdom, experience, intuition, tools and techniques. The key – it needs to be repeatable, adaptable and enhanceable.
Having the right stakeholders engaged in and committed to a project is absolutely fundamental to project success. PM’s need to ensure that the stakeholders are identified and actively engaged from a project’s inception to completion. So, what are stakeholders? In this context, they are the influencers and decision makers. Project Pre-Check includes four roles: sponsor, change agent, target and champion.
A Sponsor is a manager who legitimizes the planned change, has the economic, logistical or political power to make the change happen and is ultimately responsible for decisions relating to the five W’s (who, when, what, where, why).
A Change Agent – typically, but not necessarily, a project director or manager – is responsible to the sponsor(s) for implementing the change. Authority is focused on determining how to deliver according to the sponsors’ mandate and targets’ needs.
A Target is a manager who directs individuals or groups who must actually change the way they think and work for a change to be successful. Targets include managers of departments within the initiating organization but can also include managers who are external to the organization initiating the change, such as customers, vendors, partners and distributors.
A Champion is a manager or senior staff member who enthusiastically supports the planned change but lacks the organizational authority to implement the change. However, a champion does have the necessary influence and respect to help bring about the necessary behavioral changes in the managers and staff that are affected by the change.
PM’s have to ensure that stakeholders are actively engaged in decision-making and that their deliberations encompass the breadth and depth of the planned change. The challenge – what decisions need to be made? The Project Pre-Check Decision Framework addresses four domains: the nature and characteristics of the change itself, the impact on the environment within which the change will be implemented, the assets that will be needed to support the project or are impacted by the change and the specific requirements for how the project will be conducted. These four domains contain 18 factors and 125 decision areas that can be considered for each and every change. It’s a great starting point for building and monitoring stakeholder cohesion.
PM’s need to ensure that stakeholders follow a repeatable series of steps to manage a change and use them diligently from inception to completion.Project Pre-Check includes three processes to deal with various project stages: Project Launch, Health Check and Oversight.
The Project Launch process leverages stakeholder commitment at project start-up to agree on expected outcomes, assess impact on each Decision Area, and agree on the contribution various Decision Areas can make to the success of the project.
The Health Check process assesses existing, in-progress projects. It’s perfect for a major change in project scope or direction, changes in key project players (sponsor, change agent or major targets) or simply to take stock of stakeholder involvement and comfort with progress to date.
The Oversight Process controls scope, risk and organizational impact and ensures expected results are delivered on budget and plan. It monitors stakeholder agreement levels on each Decision Area for the duration of the change to facilitate timely, targeted and effective stakeholder decision making.
A PM’s most important responsibility is to orchestrate the performance of the key stakeholders making decisions using the defined, repeatable process. You’ll see how it all relates in the following posts, where I’ll look at a variety of projects – successful, failed and mixed. You’ll see ample proof that a great PM is, in fact, the sponsor’s best friend. In the interim, if you have a project experience, either good or bad, that you’d like to have examined through the Project Pre-Check lens, send me the details and we’ll have a go.
Drew Davison is the owner and principal consultant at Davison Consulting and a former system development executive. He is the developer of Project Pre-Check, an innovative framework for launching projects and guiding successful project delivery, the author of Project Pre-Check – The Stakeholder Practice for Successful Business and Technology Change and Project Pre-Check FastPath – The Project Manager’s Guide to Stakeholder Management. He works with organizations that are undergoing major business and technology change to implement the empowered stakeholder groups critical to project success. Drew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org