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Want Outstanding Projects? Make Stakeholders CARE!

Take-Aways

  1. Lack of sponsor and stakeholder support deprives projects of vision and resources.
  2. Project management presentation of important information can make motivate stakeholders to take actions that reduce project uncertainty and improve project outcomes.

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Those who are responsible for the outcomes of your organization's initiatives should be very concerned about how sponsors and project managers interact and exert their leadership. During times of economic danger, you may be wasting limited resources because of inefficiencies and unresolved conflict. The PMI Pulse of the Profession report (March 2013) states that the dollars lost in risk by high performing organizations is 14 times less than that of low performing organizations.

C-level executives and project sponsors in general are pre-occupied with many business concerns. A successful business strategy is one that allows for the implementation of as many initiatives that provide additional value to their customers. It is inevitable that important initiatives are delegated to project managers.

A danger organizations face is when sponsors wash their hands of a project they delegated. This may happen because traditional business advice suggests that “A” priority goals require their immediate attention and focus, to delegate “B” priority work, and you shouldn't even both with the “C” work. Although a sponsor may delegate work, they are still accountable for the results. Sponsor indifference may also be because of a sponsor's lack of understanding of the project's technical complexity.

Regardless of the reason, an important initiative suffers. Project managers are not given the authority to directly manage all resources, and depend upon the sponsor for their resources and political power. Project managers may have their own sources of power, but sometimes that is insufficient and sponsor muscle power is needed. As a project suffers, C-level executives have to carefully consider whether to engage in defensive behaviors (such as blaming and dismissing the project manager) or to engage in problem solving.  Avoiding the problem does not make the problem go away.

Stakeholder Awareness

Information becomes more powerful when it is shared with others. Stakeholders and project team members interact more when project information becomes transparent and provided in a format that is easy to consume. When information is shared, people are more likely to commit to a cause, express their concerns, discover new allies, and address problems in a united manner.

Research on the social effects of communicative action (de Bakker, Boonstra, & Wortmann, 2011) suggests that project management is missing an opportunity by restricting risk management to the domain of the project manager. Because projects are how many organizations implement change, sponsors and stakeholders who are presented with consumable information about opportunities and threats (i.e. risks) will often take actions to influence project outcomes. If risk is discussed and presented in a public forum, the ensuing actions and discussions help expose project uncertainties by making sponsor and stakeholder interests better known.

Traditional risk management according to the PMBOK includes activities such as planning, identifying, analyzing and monitoring risk, and is performed by the project manager and the team. If this is done (and often it is not), only the project team is aware of the risks and their challenges.

What would happen if the project manager or the PMO were to identify risks and then share that information with stakeholders in a highly visible way? A lot of buzz would likely ensue. Stakeholders will be sure to point out items that are missed or incorrect. Some may offer up solutions. The sponsor will see how their project will have a ripple effect amongst stakeholders. Best of all, stakeholders may discover how much they have in common and that the organization begins to work more like a team.

Visibility and Control

When sponsors and stakeholders are more mindful of the project and risk, they will certainly expect updates on risk impact and results. Social applications like Facebook are good for sharing information with friends. The project management world could benefit from providing a more social context for project and stakeholder interactivity. Traditional tools like email, project schedules, and risk registers are fine but they create pockets of isolation.

Bringing hard and soft information together and allowing people to discuss, comment, vote, play, and relate will help minimize the impact of harmful risks and maximize the opportunities presented by positive risks. Social communication of risk also raises the interesting prospect of increased focus on positive risks, whereas traditional risk management drifts towards negative risk. When sponsors and stakeholders have the ability to openly share and discuss risk items, there will be more opportunities to take advantage of information that is “live” rather than waiting until the next board or user group meeting.

One key towards promoting risk visibility is how it is presented to people. Dashboards that summarize the current state helps everybody remain sensitive to current trends. Visual presentation of risk information and of specific risk register items will also help. What PMOs will need to provide is a “go to” place for the project, so that sponsors and stakeholders can discuss this information, and are afforded opportunities to collaborate in a conveniently centralized and open location.

 

Thomas Swider, PMP

Tom’s interest in project management started while working at Primavera Systems in technical support for SureTrak Project Scheduler. Although mastering the intricacies of GANTT charts and resource leveling were challenging mental puzzles, Tom learned that there was a lot more to project management than the charts, and sought opportunities to work on and lead projects while working at Computer Sciences Corporation. He was able to act as project manager for both training and support desk projects.

He has been with Computer Aid, Inc. since 2004. His expertise in eLearning Project Management helped in the successful delivery of internal training courses and CAI University.

Tom holds a Master of Project Management degree from Keller Graduate School of Management, which was earned entirely as a virtual learner, completing his work while on buses, planes and hotel rooms. He earned his PMP credential in 2011, and is currently a consultant for CAI’s Project Office Plus service offering.

About Thomas Swider

Author and PMP certified project manager, currently consulting for CAI’s Project Office Plus+ service offering.

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