Beyond Project Sponsorship – A Millennial’s Perspective on Human Factors Crucial to Project Success

Monday Jul 31st, 2017


It is no secret that projects need strong sponsorship from senior executives to be successful. However, once that executive support is in place, there are still several other factors that need to co-exist in order for the PM to deliver a winning project. In this article, I share my experiences on how to harness these human factors to attain project success.

"Very early on in my career, I learned that everyone wants to be a star"

From an Analyst, to an Administrator, to a Director, Project Manager or CEO – we all love it when we are made to feel that we championed something, no matter how big or small. I once was on a very large scale and important project for an organization. The project had very strong senior-level sponsorship, an excellent PM was assigned to lead it and all team members were excited, senior employees who had the authority to make decisions and get work done. Yet, the project felt like a rocking ship that would sink any time. There were too many ‘strong’ individuals, walking quickly in opposing directions and others who wanted to ‘save the day’, but only from their corner of the ship. While the team trusted the PM, everyone thought that they should be charged with steering the ship and as a result we went nowhere. As the core project management team we had to get back on course, so here is what we did:

1. We formalized and socialized Project Governance

We had originally described how the project would be governed in the Project Charter and in the initiating phase of the project. But we decided to convert this into a presentation for the team and explain who had authority for specific areas of the project and more importantly, why they had authority and how this would help everyone move forward.

2. We presented our Stakeholder Role Map

We had followed best practice by creating a stakeholder role map, but rather than leaving this document for the benefit of the core project management team only, we also socialized this to show the roles, responsibility, authority and influence each stakeholder had and how we planned to leverage these to create clear champions for each area of the project.  We also visually showed how each of these champions would interact with each other during the project so that everyone could see their impact and how they ‘fit’ into the bigger picture.

 3. We prepared our stakeholders in advance

Prior to getting all stakeholders in one meeting room to present strategy, we met with each individually to ‘prep’ them by telling them what we had planned for them to champion. We got their feedback early, we addressed their concerns early and most importantly, we made sure that everyone was aligned with our vision going into our wider stakeholder meeting. This ensured that there were no surprises and when all heads nodded in unison in the meeting room, it gave everyone all the more confidence that the project management team knew what it was doing.

By showing people how they could be the stars of the project in their own way we motivated our stakeholders to work synchronously with each other, enabling the project to finally head in the right direction.

"Post-graduation my experiences confirmed that short attention spans is certainly a universal condition and not just restricted to Millennials"

When presented with detailed information at a meeting, I noticed that my audience did one of two things; they either got stuck in the details and the presenter didn’t get beyond the first few slides, or they buried themselves behind their laptops or mobile devices, didn’t contribute and questioned the decisions made later. Both situations were hugely inefficient and so I quickly learned the importance of catering to the average human attention span. Here is what I personally found effective (and you may notice that some of these are best practices for meetings in general):

1. Limit meeting attendees

I became very selective with my meeting audience by keeping my invites restricted to only those individuals who would help me directly attain my meeting objectives. For example, if I needed a decision made, I invited only those with authority or influence, or if I needed to present a status update, I would ensure that I invited only those whose activities would be directly impacted by this update and so forth. These pointers may seem obvious to you at first, yet even the best us can find our meetings hijacked by additional attendees, which risks people digressing and losing attention on the topic at hand.

 2. Keep your presentations brief

Whenever I chose to use presentation aids in my meetings, I kept the text very brief. If an issue needed to be resolved, I would add very few bullets to first explain the issue and then highlight the decision that needed to be made. I spoke to all the details. And this way I noticed the audience looking less at the presentation and more at me, which reassured me that I had their attention.

3. Keep your audience engaged

Next, I made sure to ask questions as I went through the presentation and often, directly targeted them to a specific stakeholder. Even if the meeting was as mundane as a status update, I kept the audience engaged by asking if anyone had any thoughts or questions etc. I have found that this habit is very conducive to getting people thinking and generating some good dialogue.

And so, by keeping the group small, the audience focused on me and engaged in discussion at every opportunity, I overcame the threat short attention spans posed to hijacking my meetings.

This article was getting lengthy so I ended it here – but stay tuned for Part 2! 


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