Help! We’re Out of Sync!

Staying in Sync with your Project SponsorProject Sponsors, does this sound familiar?  You’ve got a great team, and you’ve pointed them in the right direction on a new project.  They work really hard, but what they come up with isn’t what you had in mind.

Project Managers, does this sound familiar?  Your project sponsor passes along some high level guidance to your team, ending with “I trust you to do a great job.”  Your team moves into high gear, spends a lot of nights and weekends, and comes up with something you feel good about.  You triumphantly share it with your project sponsor, who says you are on the right track, but has so many corrections that it sends you back to the drawing board, frustrated and deflated.

What happened?  And how could it have gone better? 

Changes on both the project manager’s and the project sponsor’s part could have yielded better results.  Let’s start with the project sponsor:

The Bookends of Vision & Approval
Do we have any project sponsors in the audience?  This one’s for you.

To get the most from your team, the project vision and the final approval need to be at the same level of detail.  Think of it like bookends on either end of the project: they need to complement each other, or your results won’t hold up. 

I don’t mean to imply you need to know everything at project kickoff.  As the project progresses, more will become apparent.  Plus, circumstances change, and that may affect the vision.  We know things change.  But please, tell the team as soon as you formulate new guidance, don’t wait until they deliver the final product to weigh in. 

Your team likes to hear that you trust them.  But that means you really have to trust them, as in delegate fully at the Vision stage.  The approval process should be about making sure the final product matches the vision, not about whether it was done the way you would’ve done it.  If you want to do a detailed critique at the end, plan to give detailed guidance as early as possible, so your team has a good shot at hitting the mark.  Keep in mind, though, that the more detailed decision-making you retain, the less your team will feel empowered.

Why does it matter?  If your team has been corrected too often, their productivity and morale goes down.  They will become hesitant to act on their own without detailed direction from you.  That means they’ll be checking in with you, perhaps more often than you’d want, and be far less likely to take risks.  Is that behavior you want to promote?  Not only that, they’ll require more of your time to manage, and we know you’ve got plenty on your plate already.

OK, now it’s the project manager’s turn to get on the hot seat.

Visibility, please
When was the last time you communicated with your project sponsor?  Do you know how often he wants to hear from you, and what type of information he needs to know about?  Do you know when he’d like to be interrupted for guidance vs. when you should just handle things on your own?

I’ve been brought in to help with projects when the project sponsor had an uneasy feeling that the team wasn’t on track, but didn’t really know where they stood.  Don’t go dark just because you think you can handle it, or are “too busy” to communicate out.  It’s amazingly reassuring to a sponsor to hear, “Issue X came up, we are doing Y to address it, but wanted you to be aware.  We’ll let you know if we need your help.”

If you communicate regularly with your sponsor, they are more likely to remember you and your project.  You want your advocate to remember you.  You also want your sponsor to keep you abreast of changes as they happen so you can adapt as you go, rather than getting corrections at the end, when you finally check in.

Be sure to communicate regularly, but beware over-communication.  Unless your sponsor can quickly find the key information they want and need to know, it’ll all sound like “blah blah blah”.  If you asked them, they told you what they wanted to hear, so focus on that.  Help them help you.

Speaking of help, if you’d like help delivering projects more effectively, let’s talk

Best Wishes,

Mia Whitfield, M.M.Whitfield Consulting

p.s. Tune in tomorrow, when we’ll talk about Communication Pitfalls and how to avoid them.

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