Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be – Jack Welch
“All change is hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end” is a well-known saying from Robin Sharma, a motivational writer, speaker and leadership expert. The existence of projects is to drive the change that the Executive has in mind. Imagine that you are the leader of an enterprise-wide IT business transformation project that is the centrepiece for manifesting the next growth spurt of the organization. Your work relationship with the Executive is critical to make this initiative a success. How do you manage the Executive such that both of you are effective? Here are 5 management rules you should be aware off and practice.
Understand and challenge the vision: the single most important success factor of any project is a clear understanding of the vision, purpose, impact, and benefits of the project. It is all about a broad and deep understanding by all stakeholders of the WHAT. It takes awhile for the organization to absorb a vision statement. It’s the responsibility of the project leader to facilitate that process by working closely with communication experts and the Executive on crafting messages and broadcasting them to the right audience at the right time and place. The project leader should challenge the Executive on the vision with the objective to sharpen it. It is in the best interest of the organization that the vision is unambiguous and rock solid before you move forward with the planning and execution phase. If internal and/or external subject matter experts are needed in the ‘vision refinement’ process, the project leader takes care of that. Throughout the project lifecycle, the project leader is accountable for a ‘continuity of vision’ process, which means that the future state gets more and more defined in detail from vision statements to blueprints to specifications. The project leader is the linking pin between the Executive and the project and orchestrates a bi-directional communication and collaboration
Have a mutually agreed to plan: Once the vision has sunk in and all internal and external stakeholders sing from the same song-sheet, it is time to get to a mutual agreement of the project plan between Executive and the project leader. In parallel to the envisioning phase (see above), the project leader is working on a draft plan based on strategies and principles that have been discussed with the Executive. The plan has 3 levels, a GANTT for planning at the Executive level, an integrated project plan at the project level, and work plans at the team level. Throughout the project lifecycle, plans get further refined. The project leader is responsible to involve the Executive in this progressive elaboration planning process as required, not only when plans need to be adjusted and re base lined for unforeseen events. Progress and status will be reported at the GANTT level, such that the realization of the vision is transparent to the Executive at all times. Last but not least: always have a plan B…, just in case
Share the real status with facts: The Executive likes to see a coherent, crisp and concise story of where the project stands on a single page every week, and at peak times more frequently. Use a dashboard displaying the GANTT and status indicators for the key dimensions: scope, schedule, cost, people, quality, issues, risks and vendor performance. Provide factual information for each dimension that is valuable to the Executive and the project. Include a section where you keep track of key decisions that need to be made. Make sure that the overall story has a rolling forward approach, where the indicators speak to the current and previous period status. Refer to other documents where you keep track of detailed project status, for example issues and risk logs. Have them up-to-date and available upon request. Most of the Executives that are accountable for enterprise-wide IT business transformation projects have a hectic work life. In case the project leader does not get the attention that is needed, think about sharing status information in a creative but still effective manner. An example that works well is to distribute the status report as an attachment to an email. The email itself only carries 3 to 5 key messages. Point in the email to action items or key decisions that need to be made. Follow up with the Executive verbally in a subsequent step that can go quickly, because the project leader already gave a heads up by email, and can focus in the discussion on what’s important
Come with options: One of the ground rules the project leader wants to set at the start of the initiative is that options are being presented at the same time as the problem. Options should be realistic and when possible supported by qualitative and quantitative statements. There is a golden rule that the decision maker can select from a list of 3 to 5 options. The project leader is responsible for making a recommendation to the Executive with input from the team. Make sure that the recommendation is the result of an impact analysis and rational trade-off process between the pros and cons
Get the Executive on the floor: Key ingredients to a successful project is the demonstration of Executive commitment and alignment, as well as acknowledgement of the contribution of the organization, team and people. The project leadership team is responsible on a daily basis for people management. Coaching top talent is one of the premier activities in that area. The project leader must establish a recurring platform where the Executive ‘connects with the floor’. Projects that realize the most benefits have the Executive at arms length. They have the Executive participating in key meetings, or conduct town halls on a recurring basis, do walk arounds to meet with project staff, or have social events once in a while. As I wrote in my post ‘Want a World-Class Project Team?’, the people factor is very important, at least equally so not more than process and technology. The Executive as the visionary leader plays a crucial role
With the projects that I am talking about, ’The Executive’ is oftentimes more than one person. A major responsibility of the project leader is to ensure that along the way, the Executives stay committed and aligned. There are 2 key measures to make that happen. In the first place, work with the Executive in charge to get buy in and to build a forceful coalition of Executives. In the second place, make sure that all the Executives receive the same project status information, such that the context of the project is transparent. When everything is unfolding as envisioned and planned, you are good to go as project leader and be successful with your team.
Bas de Baat
Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP©