Your project sponsor has disappeared and you need him for information, for decision-making, for tasks, and direction? But he is otherwise detained. Here are three strategies for keeping your disappearing project sponsor available to you when you need him most.
Project managers are often operating as lone wolves on the projects they manage. They must make decisions, gather key information, make assignments, and call out project participants (good and bad) along the way if progress is an issue.
We should be able to expect good participation from our project team members. We should be able to expect help from our senior management and key stakeholders along the way - after all they have some sort of vested interest in the success or failure of the project.
Likewise, we should certainly be able to expect the ongoing participation and availability of our project customer. But not always is the case, unfortunately. Why? Well, we must remember that - in many cases - our key contact on the customer side has a day job. This project is likely not their job - not the only activity they have going on at the moment. It is probably something that affects their regular job, department or employees so they have a keen interest in it’s success… hence they are the point person for the customer. Or it could be that it was just thrust upon them. But either way, these things can limit their availability to us and the project on a daily basis.
How do we keep them engaged on our project? I have an action list that works for me... and it involves forced engagement through these three tactics.
1. Assign them tasks, however small they may be.
Keep your project customer engaged, at the very least by keeping them assigned to small tasks throughout the project. And have them report in during the weekly project status call. They can be contrived, but make them look important. The key is to keep them accountable to something so they feel compelled to attend meetings and report status updates. They don’t want to be the ones slowing the project down or dropping the ball during status meetings. Make sure the tasks seem important enough. Or you can actually give them important tasks. Either way, it should help get them to the meetings and keep them from hiding away for days or weeks at a time.
2. Have your executive management team reach out to them periodically.
Any client who is given frequent access to or contact by the delivery organization’s CEO or other C-level representative is going to consider themselves a significant customer of yours. And they will consider that their project is of utmost importance to your organization. They aren’t likely going to want to skip those calls or that involvement when they can get it. Trust me, this works if you can get your CEO to buy in to it. And if you plead your case well enough, he will.
3. Start bringing potential scope issues to their attention.
This may be one of those cases of negative attention seeking, but there is no such thing as bad publicity. If you start talking change orders, you’ll definitely get your client’s attention. You need at least a believable issue to bring up, but that usually isn’t too hard on a longer-term, complex project. Look around…even if it’s potential new business with the client…draft a change order and request a meeting. You’ll get someone there.
There are always a few tricky ways to get your client’s attention even when it seems that they have hopelessly disappeared from the project. If it does get bad enough, you’ll likely need to go over their heads – perhaps even to their CEO. Letting their exec management know that they are potentially harming their project due to inactivity or lack of availability will probably get the ball rolling. It may even get you a new, more involved project sponsor.