Ask 100 people to define Change Management, and you'll get 100 different definitions. At the end of the day, the definition is just semantics. What really matters is whether you can implement a Change Management program in a practical way that allows you to support your organization in successfully achieving its goals. Whether you're a Change Manager, a consultant, or the tech. guy who was told to "figure out some Change Management stuff," this blog will help address common issues and topics you're likely to run into along the way.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

My Number One Red Flag: Executive Sponsorship

Although everyone enjoys being on a great project team, there are benefits to being on more challenging projects.  They give you opportunities to build your interpersonal skills, practice the arts of negotiation and diplomacy, and force you to become more creative in finding solutions to both standard and unique issues.  One of the major benefits of being on multiple challenging projects, though, is that you become adept at quickly identifying project "red flags."

These red flags warn you that this is not going to be a smooth project.  If I see one red flag, I prepare to dig a little deeper into my bag of Change Management tricks.  If I see two, I start thinking about the overtime hours the project will require.  If I see three red flags, I mentally add months to the timeline and millions to the budget.

Red flags can take a number of forms across many areas of the project.  My top five red flags:
  • A lack of structured Project Management
  • Client team members who are expected to complete 100% of their day job on top of their project responsibilities
  • ERP (or any complex system) implementations that are scheduled to take less than a year
  • Disgruntled end users who talk about the project failing before it has even begun
And my number one red flag: A lack of Executive Sponsorship.

It's easy to think in these days of grass-roots movements that strong, centralized leadership is a thing of the past.  If change is being brought about on the global stage without the political equivalent of Executive Sponsorship, why is it so necessary for a project?  Ask yourself, though, "Have you ever seen a popular groundswell of employees demanding a new ERP system?"  Me neither.

I would argue that without Executive Sponsorship, a project team has no chance of implementing a quality product on-time and on-budget.  The problem is that Executive Sponsors often aren't sure what they can do to support the success of the project, and the project team often can't articulate what they need from their Sponsors. 

A Practical Look at the Role of Executive Sponsors
  1. Create the Vision:  Projects have a lot of moving parts, and as the pace of the project speeds up, it's easy for each part to start moving in its own direction.  That's why it's crucial for the Sponsor to clearly articulate early and often: A) Why are we doing the project, B) What does the end state look like, and C) How do we define success?  If everyone has the same answers to these three questions, it will help them resolve inter-team conflicts, enable them to prioritize project activities, and ensure that everyone is working toward the same objective.  If the Sponsor doesn't create a shared vision, each person will create his own.
  2. Be a Vocal, Visible Champion:  It's not enough for an Executive to agree to be a Sponsor, then sit in her office and send the occasional e-mail.  Sponsors need to be out in front of the organization on a regular basis reinforcing the project vision.  Remind other Executives why it's crucial to dedicate money and people to completing the project.  Explain to employees the benefits they'll realize by adopting the change.  Encourage the project team and show them that you appreciate their hard work.  Executive Sponsors need to be seen as the number one supporter of the project.  And they need to be seen often.
  3. Remove Roadblocks: Projects are difficult.  No matter how well planned the work and how dedicated the team members, they will hit roadblocks.  It's the Sponsor's job to remove the roadblocks that the team can't remove for themselves.  This can include freeing up time from an essential Subject Matter Expert, working to resolve issues with a vendor that's not delivering on schedule, or helping to ensure the project team has the resources it needs.  By removing roadblocks, the Sponsor allows the project team to stay focused on their day-to-day project activities.
  4. Empower Decision Making: One theory says that decisions should be made by the person or team at the lowest possible level that has the ability to make it.  This means that if a team member has the knowledge and ability to make a decision, he should make it, rather than requiring every decision to be escalated to the team lead, Project Manager, Executive Sponsor, and Steering Committee.  By empowering every person to make the decisions appropriate to their level, you free up people at higher levels to make more strategic decisions.  Does it really make sense for the Project Manager to spend her time deciding what color a web page should be, when what she really needs to focus on is creating an integrated project plan?  In addition, requiring too many decisions to be escalated for resolution creates a backlog that slows down the project.  If every decision has to go to the Executive Sponsor, they will quickly take over his day.  Not only will he not be able to make the decisions quickly enough, but focusing on these decisions will distract him from his real job - supporting the project's success.
Executive Sponsorship is a key success factor for any project.  Have you been on a project where the Executive Sponsor (or lack thereof) directly impacted the success or failure of the implementation?

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