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Category Archives for Project Governance

Project Failure – Why it Happens

Giant Guide to Project Failure

No one wants their project to fail. Despite this, project failure is all too common.

So is it Possible to Prevent Project Failure?

It certainly is, and all you need to do is follow all the principles of good Project Management, including foreseeing and acting on all threats.

‘Easier said than done’ you say.

Indeed.

PMI Talent Triangle - Technical Project Management

That’s why we have prepared our two-part guide to Project Failure.

This is an updated version of Part 1 of our guide. We’ll publish Part 2 next week. These have been among our most popular and heavily-read articles, so I hope you’ll enjoy them.Continue reading…

What is Strategic Project Definition? | Video

What is Strategic Project Definition?

If a project definition defines your project, what is a Strategic Project Definition?

Dr Mike Clayton is founder of OnlinePMCourses.com.
Here, he answers this question, in under 5 minutes.

PMI Talent Triangle - Strategic & Business Management

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How to Build a Robust Project Risk Culture [8 Steps]

How to Build a Robust Project Risk Culture

A robust risk culture goes beyond having a strong basic risk management process. But the rewards for the extra work you’ll put in to build that culture are huge. Particularly for large, complex, or strategically important projects.

Some of my readers may hope to influence the risk culture of their whole organization. But, for many, I suspect this may be too great an ambition. For you, the right aspiration is to build a positive risk culture within your project. As a Project Manager, that’s entirely within your scope.

So, some readers will draw information related to this badge…PMI Talent Triangle - Strategic & Business Management
But explicitly, we’re going to focus on how your project that can create and impose risk management discipline on a blank project canvas.

PMI Talent Triangle - Technical Project Management

But these ideas scale. And the process for creating a robust risk management culture within your project can apply equally if you get a chance to influence your wider organization.

Continue reading…

What is Project Governance? | Video

What is Project Governance?

Project Governance is central to the success and accountability of your projects. So, what is Project Governance?

So, what is Project Governance?

Dr Mike Clayton is founder of OnlinePMCourses.com.
Here, he answers this question, in under 5 minutes.

PMI Talent Triangle - Technical Project Management

Continue reading…

Why the Stage Gate Process will Make You a Better Project Manager

Stage Gate Process

The Stage Gate Process gets too little love from Project Managers. Yet it has the potential to transform your project management, deliver more successful projects, and make you a better project manager.

A Stage Gate is also known by many other names:

  • Phase Gate (PMBOK 6th Edition)
  • Gateway (PRINCE2)
  • Boundary Gate (most pleasing expression of the metaphor)
  • Gate, or Toll-gate
  • Go / No-go Review (literal name)
  • Kill Point (severely deprecated by OnlinePMCourses)

In a Stage Gate process, you break your project into stages, or phases. Each stage ends with a gate. And the metaphor is simple: you don’t complete the stage and cross to the next one, until you pass through the gate. So, at each stage gate, the project’s decision-makers review your project against a set of criteria.

Using the information you make available, they decide whether to:

  • Continue the project to its next stage
  • Repeat work (stay in the stage), for resubmission for Stage Gate Review
  • Stop the project
  • Require changes before it proceeds
  • Place the project on hold (very rarely)

In this article, we look at why a stage gate process will enhance your project management, and how to make it work.

PMI Talent Triangle - Technical Project Management

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Do You Know What your Project Sponsor Wants?

Do You Know What Your Project Sponsor Wants?

Call them your sponsor, your boss, or your client if you like. But one thing we all know as a Project Manager is this. Our job is to do what our Project Sponsor wants.

But here’s the question… Do you know what your Project Sponsor wants? If you don’t, you’d better find out quickly.

And that’s what this article is all about.

By the way, is your job to do what your Project Sponsor wants?

Some will argue that it isn’t. It is to do what your employer needs, to serve your stakeholders, or to meet the expectations of the organization that’s paying the bills. These are all true.

But this article is going to make one giant assumption: that your sponsor’s job is to represent these faithfully. In another article, we’ll examine the vexed question of what to do if your sponsor goes rogue. For now, we’ll assume that serving our sponsor, and delivering what they want, is at the heart of your role.

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OnlinePMCourses Guide to Project Change Control

The OnlinePMCourses Guide to Project Change Control

There’s one distinctive sign that your project is going well. A stakeholder approaches you in the corridor. ‘We’re very pleased with how your project is going…’ they say. ‘The only thing is… we’ve changed out minds.’ Oh no. This is a job for Project Change Control.

Even on the most traditional of projects, you will need to adapt to changes. They may be driven by technology, commercial opportunities, regulatory changes or a dozen more reasons. Whatever it is, you need to be flexible. And the longer your project, the bigger the need. So it pays to set up a change control process as part of your project set up. This usually happens during the planning stage, and it will serve you well, during your delivery stage.

In this giant guide, we give you everything you need to know to start setting up a robust change control process for your project.

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Make Your Project Estimation More Reliable, Using the PERT Method

Project Managers have many responsibilities. And one of the most difficult is Project Estimation: to predict what will happen in the future. Because projects are fraught with uncertainty. One of the most widely used approaches to improving estimation is the PERT Method.

And Project Sponsors dislike uncertainty. So they expect Project Managers to reduce it. So, they want you to manage project risks and estimate uncertain, future outcomes like:

  • How much will this project cost?
  • When will this project finish?

PMI Talent Triangle - Technical Project ManagementContinue reading…

A Difficult Project Sponsor: How to Handle Them [6 Different Types]

How to Handle a Difficult Project Sponsor

In an earlier article, we gave you eight approaches for how to engage your project sponsor. But the commonest challenge is 'what if I have a difficult project sponsor?' So in this article, we'll look at seven flavours of difficult project sponsor, and tactics for handling them.

PMI Talent Triangle - Leadership

What Sort of Difficult Project Sponsor?

How to Handle a Difficult Project Sponsor

How to Handle a Difficult Project Sponsor

Before we start, we need to define what we mean by a 'difficult Project Sponsor'. After all, people just do what they do. The difficulty we have is when we don't have the flexibility to deal with their behaviors. So  let's start by listing some of the behaviors Project Managers find challenging to handle.

Here are six difficult Project Sponsor behaviors I've frequently encountered.In one way or another, I've had to deal with most of them myself. But I also get asked about each of these a lot. Some come in a range of subtly different flavors.

The Absentee Sponsor

This is the commonest in my experience, and comes about when your project sponsor does not take enough interest in you or your project. Some of the common variants of this behavior are:

  • Not approachable - you can't get enough access to your sponsor. This can be because either they make themselves scarce when you need them. Or, quite simply, they are too busy and your project is too far down their priority list.
  • Not interested - your project just doesn't excite them. They may have lots of priorities, or few. But your project is not even on the list. They have no intention of helping any more than they absolutely must.
  • Rejecting the role - your project sponsor doesn't want to be your project sponsor. They may have many reasons, like over-work, fear of the responsibility, or not believing in your project.

The Meddlesome Sponsor

This is also a common behavior. Here, your difficult Project Sponsor wants to be too involved and gets in your way. They focus too much on the details and the tactical project issues, rather than strategic governance topics.

The Directional Sponsor

Not to put too finer point on it, this sponsor has their own agenda. And they pursue it without due regard to wider organizational concerns. They won't listen to advice and an put your project at risk by their narrow focus on what matters most to them.

The Indecisive Sponsor

As challenging as a sponsor who always decides in one direction is a sponsor that finds it hard to decide at all. Decision-making is a vital part of the governance of a project (See our article 'What has Project Governance Ever Done for Us?'). If your difficult Project Sponsor can'r make decisions, or takes too long, you will often lack the direction you need. This will have significant cost, schedule, and quality implications.

The Unresourceful Sponsor

One of the roles of a good Project Sponsor, is to help you solve problems, and access the resources you need. They must be good negotiators with the organizational clout to get things done, and the will to use their influence on your project's behalf. If, for whatever reason, they canoot or are unwilling to do this for you, you have lost a valuable ally.

The Critical Sponsor

This one also comes in a lot of flavors. Your critical sponsor may be:

  • Demanding and unreasonable
  • Overbearing and aggressive
  • Unsupportive and uncaring
  • or just plain Critical of what you do

All these types of difficult Project Sponsor fail to make your role easier, at best. And at worst, they can make your life a misery.

Strategies for Difficult Sponsors

Before we look at specific strategies for the seven types of difficult Project Sponsor, let's consider some basics that apply in all cases.

General Strategies to Handle a Difficult Project Sponsor

There is a simple four step process that will help you with difficult Project Sponsor behavior. it isn't guaranteed to work: nothing is with people. But it will get you started in the right direction.

Step 1: Confidence and Competence

You need to build respect from your sponsor, so at all times you must show you are competent in your role, and confident of your abilities. Prepare well each time before you meet your difficult Project Sponsor, and put on your 'game face'.

Step 2: Build Your Relationship a Little at a Time

Take the attitude that, no matter how challenging you find their behavior, your sponsor is just a person. They will have their strong points and there will be things you can learn from them. So slowly and surely set out to woo them and build a good relationship. Don't rush it. But, by a series of concessions, small favors, thoughtful acts, and taking an interest in them, you will gain their trust.

Step 3: Acknowledge their Needs

Listen to what they have to say and read the mood music. You need to understand what is important to your sponsor, because their difficult behavior is almost certainly their attempt to serve their own needs. If you can gauge those meeds and meet them directly, your difficult Project Sponsor may just become a pussy cat!

Step 4: Recognition, Compliments, and Praise

The things that motivate you and your team will also motivate your sponsor. Recognize their contributions and praise them, so they feel good about helping you and your project. And offer genuine compliments, to build liking.

You might like...

Mike Clayton is author of the Business Express short Kindle ebook, Managing Upwards Successfully: Build a successful and effective working relationship with your boss.

It is available from all Amazon stores, including amazon.com and amazon.co.uk

Now let's get into specific strategies to help you handle particular difficult Project Sponsor behaviors.

How to Handle an Absentee Sponsor

There may be many reasons why your absentee sponsor is hard to get hold of, but your first strategy will always be 'commitment'. Create a commitment that they will find hard to break. One common tactics are putting meetings into their diary. For this, building a good relationship with their sercetary or executive assistant will be a valuable investment. Another way to create commitment is routine. This means may be able to rely on a small commitment of a few minutes a week, at a time and place that suits your sponsor. Regularity has a huge value, and you can focus the short time you have on either what is most vital to you or on what is most engaging to your sponsor.

Depending on their reason for being an absentee sponsor, you can emphasise the importance of their limited engagement by reference to:

  • Risk and responsibility
  • Duty and obligation
  • Benefits and advantages
  • Control and Power
  • Reputation and kudos

How to Handle a Meddlesome Sponsor

Typically a meddlesome sponsor wants to be in control. So micro-managing your project is their way of achieving it. So the best strategy is to give them control, but focus their attention on areas of your project where that control will be either of most value or of least harm.

If you can, discover why they need this level of control. This way, you can find ways to give them the control they need, without them needing to meddle. An example is fear of failure. If your difficult Project Sponsor is afraid your project will fail and reflect badly on them, then focus their attention on risk management work, to comfort them. Engage them in helping to identify and assess risks. Then share your mitigation plans and progress with the.

If their concern is progress, develop a reporting process that addresses that need, and if it's budgetary control, then keep a tight rein on the finances, and report budget status regularly - as often as they want. One tactic that can help with all meddlesome sponsors is to work with them to develop a dashboard of information that they want to see, and update it as often as they feel they need.

Another need that a meddlesome Project Sponsor may expressing is to feel valued and important to your project. If this is the case, then use your meetings to ask their advice. Bring concerns, challenges, and problems to them. Flatter them by listening to their suggestions and taking their advice. If you choose the topics, they won't have as much need to poke their fingers into other parts of your project.

How to Handle a Directional Sponsor

For me, this is the toughest difficult Project Sponsor behavior. This is because a directional sponsor is often playing a political game for their own gain. This makes them potentially dangerous, so you need to handle them with care.

It's also possible that they are driving your project in a specific direction because they think it is right. In this case, your priority is to determine, as best you can, whether they are correct. If they are, then you only need to ensure you wrap good governance processes around their judgment. If you think they are wrong, you need to find a way to subject them and their opinions to external governance processes that will test their thinking openly and have the authority to over-ride it.

The Political Sponsor

Let's come back to the political sponsor. First you need to figure out what their agenda is. Is it one that you can accommodate without threatening the integrity of your project. The best way I know to surface an agenda, in terms that your sponsor should find comfortable to share openly is to ask their 'evidence procedure'. Ask them, in their role as Project Sponsor, to articulate their answer to:

At the end of this project, how will you assess whether it has been a success?'

This brings us to the possibility that your political Project Sponsor could potentially undermine your project. You could, of course, struggle against them at every turn. This will sap your energy and risk creating a dangerous adversary, with the likelihood that you'll lose more battles than you win. The nature of the Project Manager - Project Sponsor relationship is, by nature, rarely one of equal power and influence. So, you need allies.

Distasteful and uncomfortable as it may be, you need to gather some senior level support and the best way to do this is to try to build a governance structure around your sponsor. This way, other senior people can be part of the direction-setting and decision-making and so keep your difficult Project Sponsor in check.

How to Handle an Indecisive Sponsor

Building a guiding governance structure around your sponsor is also the most secure strategy when your Project Sponsor's difficult behavior is related to poor, slow, or absent decision-making. If your sponsor is unable to set clear expectations and make tough choices that are beyond your remit, your project will stall. Good governance demands good decision-making.

So treat this next suggestion wth great care... Sometimes, you can help your Project Sponsor make their decisions, by the way you present them. This obviously risks placing the decisions with you, and using your sponsor as a shield. That is wrong. But sometimes, you need to proceed, and you are clear what is right, and you are prepared to take the consequences.

Guiding your Sponsor's Decision

Whatever you do, however, you must NOT manipulate your sponsor. And you must be transparent in making a recommendation, justifying it, and giving them the final choice.

Too many options will make it hard to decide, so start by limiting the options. If there are genuinely several options, don't hide some. Instead, start by presenting a triage:

There are six options. We've analyzed them and rejected these three, for the following reasons...'

Now you have three options to present. Often, people favor the 'middle' option. To nudge your sponsor in that direction, show how the others represent extremes. And also focus your case on the things your sponsor believes are most important. These could be: cost, return on investment, risk, quality, safety, customer experience, timing, or any of a large number of considerations.

One other way to help a sponsor make a decision is to help them feel safe in doing so. Often indecisiveness is focused not on the consequences of making this choice or that, but the risk of not making that choice, or this. Ask yourself in what ways each option is safest for your sponsor and how the alternatives are safe to abandon.

How to Handle an Unresourceful Sponsor

One of the things we most want from our Project Sponsor is access to resources. Their advocacy for people, budgets, or even more time, can get us out of a bind. Often, they are politically astute, and know where to go for the resources you need, and how to negotiate for them. So a sponsor who cannot or will not do this less than ideal.

The strategy here has to be to help your sponsor to help you. Be very clear about what you need and flatter them by asking advice about how to get it. Instead of asking them to do things, try asking for their permission to do it on their behalf. Maybe they can make introductions, or at least allow you to drop their name.

If you need them to negotiate, help them by preparing briefing materials that include persuasive arguments they can use. Help them to look good and they will want to help you for their own benefit.

Are you struggling with your Sponsor...

Or any other project issue for that matter?

If you are, then you may be suitable for the Project Manager's Professional Coaching Program.

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How to Handle a Critical Sponsor

Our last kind of difficult Project Sponsor behavior is often the most unpleasant. They'll criticize or undermine you, or at best, they simply won't give you the help and guidance you need from them. Often this type of behavior arises from character flaws in your sponsor, so it's the hardest to deal with.

At one extreme, this can be a form of bullying from someone who wants to feel powerful, but lacks any idea how to gain respect in a respectful way. With bullies, your best strategy is to calmly, respectfully, but assertively stand up to them.

Accept that you aren't going to get the support and guidance you want or need - there's no form of compulsion that would work. Instead, go looking for it somewhere else. Most experienced project managers are only to happy to mentor and guide newer project managers. So find someone you'd like to work with and ask politely. If you are already an experienced PM, then look to a peer to coach and support you, and maybe to bounce ideas around with.

Finally, how do you deal with more criticism than you feel is  fair, or criticism dealt-out harshly? As with all feedback, welcome it and be curious. You can always learn from someone. But if this is a sponsor who gets their kicks from making you feel small, then by welcoming their critique and asking questions, they'll soon realize you aren't the pushover they're looking for. They'll move on to an easier target.

What are your Strategies for Your Own Difficult Project Sponsor?

Have you had to deal with a difficult Project Sponsor. If you have, what strategies did you use? As always, we welcome ideas from our community, and we'll respond to all comments.

In the meantime, don't forget to take a look at our article Eight Approaches for how to Engage Your Project Sponsor.

What has Project Governance Ever Done for Us? [Ans: A Lot]

What has Project Governance ever Done for Us

Too often, Project Governance is seen as ‘worthy but dull’.

Project Managers can easily believe it is nothing but an annoying intrusion into their autonomy. Senior managers find it a distraction. In addition, when they need to do it, these top people usually believe it is straight forward; they don’t need anyone to tell them how to do it.

Yet Project Governance is a critical component of your project control. It protects the organization, the project, and its people alike. It provides accountability, strategic focus, and sound decision-making. Without good Project Governance, you and your project are at grave risk.

So it’s time to understand what Project Governance can do for you. And how to kick start it on your project.

Continue reading…

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