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Tips for Project Management Success
By Andrew Meyer

“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more doubtful in its success, more dangerous in its execution, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. The innovator makes enemies of all those who prospered under the old order, and only lukewarm support is forthcoming from those who would prosper under the new. Their support is lukewarm partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the existing laws on their side, and partly because men are generally incredulous, never really trusting new things unless they have tested them by experience.” – Machiavelli

There are many things which will determine success or failure on a project. The biggest, by far, is the relationship the project manager has with the project sponsor. Out of that relationship will come the strategies, tactics, communication and vision of what the project will be and how it will operate in the organization.

There are a couple things to keep in mind with this relationship.

  1. Form matters. Who says what, when is it said, how is it said, who is it said to by whom all matter. The bigger and more political the project, the more important this is.
  2. The sponsor – pm relationship will matter more than anything else in determining project success or failure.
  3. Look for patterns and be alert for any changes.

Make sure you know who your sponsor is. There is only one. This is the person who controls the budget and succeeds or fails based upon the success or failure of the project. While you may not spend the majority of your time with this person, a lot of your thinking will be focused around this person and communicating with this person.

There are some things to understand.

  1. What is the person’s standing in the organization?
  2. Is the sponsor writing checks that they can’t cash? The sponsor must have the direct strength to make a project work. If they are not strong enough, when push comes to shove, they will be run over. If they must depend upon someone else’s strength, the project has a huge risk.
  3. Relatively, is the sponsor rising or falling? This will change through the life of the project. That will be critical to how what and when you communicate things on the project.
  4. The sponsor must always know the truth. There may be reasons that something other than “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” may be communicated at particular times, but that person’s footing must always be solid. No one else can know more about the project than they do.
  5. Understand and develop a pattern for how this relationship works and how communications are handled. Be extremely sensitive to changes in that pattern. Be extremely sensitive to changes in the organization which effect that person’s relative position.
  6. How does the sponsor relate and maneuver people in the organization? Figure this out early and pay attention to whether it changes.

Respect the sponsor’s time. If you see any changes, investigate it early.

The most important thing to establish: How do you want me to let you know if there are problems?

Andrew Meyer studied systems and industrial engineering before spending fifteen years implementing global IT and Business Process Re-Engineering projects. Frustrated with seeing communication issues hurt projects again and again, he returned to get his MBA from the University of Southern California and focused on project communications and risk management. To apply this to real-world problems, Andrew founded the Capability Alignment Professionals (http://www.CompanyAlign.com), which is dedicated to aligning incentives and encouraging communications. He discusses these issues in his blog Inquiries Into Alignment (http://alignmentinquiries.blogspot.com/)

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