Executive sponsorship should mean executive engagement

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This blog post is the first in a series of posts related to implementation success factors. We all know that this topic is not new and there is no shortage of published recommendations and ideas; so I find it fascinating that many projects still do not follow basic best practices. Hence, the projects have issues. These blog posts will therefore be a reminder to all of us on what we can do to ensure project success.

This first blog post is on the importance of Executive Sponsorship. What is it and why is it important? Every project I am associated with has an assigned Executive Sponsor from both the customer and vendor. In fact, at my company we document the expectations of the role and document who is assigned from each company right in the Statement of Work. However, I still find on most projects that that person assigned isn’t always actively engaged in the project or is the wrong person at the company. If the Executive Sponsor is not the right person or isn’t actively engaged that poses a huge risk factor for the project.

Here are my thoughts on who should be the Executive Sponsor and what makes them effective on a project:

  • The customer needs to assign an Executive Sponsor from the functional business area that is impacted by the project. They can also have an Executive Sponsor from IT, but they should not only have an IT Executive Sponsor. My experience has been that if there is no business Executive Sponsor (champion), it is difficult to get the business to make decisions, affect change, and get user adoption.
  • The person needs to have a high enough job title to get people’s attention.
  • The software vendor or services vendor must also assign an Executive Sponsor to ensure one known escalation path for project issues.
  • The Executive Sponsors from both parties should meet at or before the project kick-off to set the ground work for how they will work together. i.e, what type of regular communication and steering committee meetings. In addition, this builds a relationship between the two organizations.
  • The Executive Sponsor needs to set the ground rules for their teams on what the expectations are for the project. I have seen situations where this hasn’t happened and users show up at workshops expected to provide input but yet do not fully understand what the project is trying to accomplish.
  • The Executive Sponsor must be actively involved and attend critical meetings or workshops when necessary to make tough decisions and direct their teams. Many times an Executive Sponsor is assigned but doesn’t have the time to actively be involved and the project flounders or goes around in circles because no one can make a decision on what to do.
  • The Executive Sponsor should also assist with the Change Management process. They need to help ensure everyone understands what is happening on the project up front and continually throughout the implementation. This generally involves communicated to a broad group of constituents (not just day to day project team members) about the details of the project and how it will impact them specifically. Many times this can be accomplished through newsletters or webinars as ongoing communication. I am not suggesting that the Executive Sponsor has to write out these communications themselves, but rather be involved in the process so when people see or hear the communication they know it is coming from someone of authority.

Well, those are my thoughts. I would love to hear yours, please write me your experiences so we can all learn from each other. Update: See the second post of the series on user-adoption and buy-in

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