Project success! Together with the Sponsor

Published on Tuesday 26 September 2017 by in Blog with no comments

I recently ran a Challenge of Egypt (CoE) Project Management simulation for a European Financial Management Institution. The goal of the simulation was to allow new Project Managers to gain a better understanding of the role of a PM with regard to other stakeholders, and to develop new insights and skills.

At the start of the session we spent 5 minutes exploring the question ‘Why do projects in your organization fail’?
Below are the answers.
Between ( ) are the number of people who recognized the issue in projects that they were involved with:

  • (6) Wrong expectations of ‘Scope’, too little involvement of Sponsor and Business Unit (User);
  • (6) Unclear which issues (Risks) are important ones, the ones that impact the project the most;
  • (5) Lack of communication and understanding of Goals, Benefits – which ‘Outcomes’ are priority (must have vs nice to have);
  • (4) Lack of commitment from sponsor – depending on importance of project;
  • (3) Insufficient planning.

Have a look at our blog from 2015. The end of the blog revealed Reasons for failure from a survey of dozens of organizations. Clear overlaps still.

Playing the Pharoah, or Project Sponsor, in the CoE simulation, I said ‘Congratulations, we just made an ‘Issue log’ of common issues we have encountered which are in fact potential risks to MY project, so I am sure you will now ensure appropriate countermeasures to mitigate these’….

There was silence.

I then asked ‘Do you actually have a list of the most common issues within your organization? And is this shared internally’?

‘No” was the answer.

Is it any wonder many projects fail if we don’t capture the issues and mitigate these potential risks in subsequent projects.

Having these ‘issues’ top of mind we then played the CoE business simulation.

One of the first exercises was the ‘Risk exercise’. As the team performed this exercise the above list of issues were totally ignored. The Project sponsor was also ignored.

We eventually started the project. The above issues naturally occurred. Project quality control was poor, real business needs and outcomes were unknown, poor insight and management of risks meant that events occurring had a damaging effect. The project manager and PMO office were swamped with capturing numerous facts and figures about ‘number of workers’, ‘hours spent’, ‘Costs made’ , chasing after people not following agreed procedures and trying to solve all the issues as they occurred, as a result they were unable to focus on what really mattered – the business outcomes, and providing relevant, timely reports to help govern and steer the project.

The team then evaluated and agreed project improvements to help address or prevent the issues they recognized. The next round was much smoother, many damaging events were mitigated by on-going risk management involving everybody. The quality and acceptance criteria for ‘Must have’ and ‘Nice to have’ outcomes was agreed with the sponsor and managed. The team took ownership for their own responsibilities for escalating based upon  quality, risks and outcomes, which meant the Project manager had more time to manage and control exceptions rather than all of the day to day tasks and members of the project.

The need to be more Agile

What happened half way through the simulation?

Business’ change. Markets change.

We are now living in an age of continual change and disruption and businesses need to be ‘agile’ and ‘flexible’ in responding the market changes. In the simulation the Pharaoh could no longer afford to invest in such a long project, he needed resources for other projects and initiatives. The business sponsor in the simulation sat with the project team to scope the Minimum Viable Product(MVP) to meet the business goals, each month the team reviewed status, working closely at all times with the business user. Knowing that there were limited resources and fixed deadlines risk management became more important, reviewing issues from previous rounds and the experiences of all members, risk countermeasures were put in place, some required funding, some were procedural, e.g ensuring all were focused on the ‘business goals’ within the time constraints.










At the end of the day we captured key learning points and actions to take away.

Key takeaways:

I have added between ( ) the associated APM Project success factor taken from the 2015 APM research report  ‘Conditions for project success’:

  • The importance of having clear requirements – capture issues and impact of previous projects to demonstrate downstream effect of NOT having clear requirements or the right level of business expertise and involvement.
    (APM 4: Capable sponsors)
  • Directly understand the ‘Outcomes’ – the sponsor and user NEEDS.
    (APM 4: Capable sponsors)
    (APM 2: Goals and objectives)
  • Understand and clearly delegate roles and responsibilities within the project, particularly for Requirements, Quality (and acceptance), Risk management – using the appropriate instruments and tools (e.g: issue log, risk matrix, quality acceptance plan).
    (APM 9: Competent project teams).
    (APM 11: Proven Methods and Tools)
    (APM 12: Appropriate Standards)
  • Gaining commitment for the business goals, related to business strategy (and priorities) and ‘Outcomes’.
    (APM 3: Commitment to project success).
  • Avoid ‘Assumptions’ and ‘misunderstandings’.
    (APM 9: Competent project teams).
  • Stick to roles and responsibilities, delegate more and hold people accountable, PM’s should not ‘DO the work of others’, PM’s should focus on what matters – ‘outcomes’, ‘quality’, ‘risk’, ‘enabling decision making’ – delegate ‘Planning’ to those that know.
    (APM 9: competent project teams)
  • Understand ‘sequential’ vs ‘parallel’ and delegate accordingly. If PM wants to ‘do’ and ‘be involved’ in everything then it becomes ‘sequential’ which can cause bottlenecks and delays, create stress, and cause frustration.
    (APM 9: Competent project teams).

A recent article I read debunked the ‘myth’ that 70% of projects fail. However for me one thing is clear. Regardless of the actual statistics, all of the projects I have seen, suffer from the issues and behaviors mentioned above, both in terms of Project members AND Project sponsors. Although the mentioned APM research report was from 2015 the success factors are still very relevant. The business simulation exercise allows the opportunity to bring both project sponsors and project team members together, at the start of a project to explore and agree these success behaviors in an attempt to mitigate the common issues that plague most projects.

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