Executive buy-in and project success

Is such sponsorship necessary? opinions differ

Whenever I read about project management success, one piece of advice always seems to arise: get top-level management support for the project. But how do you do that if you’re not part of executive management — and if your project is worthwhile, should you even try? It seems opinion is split on the latter question.

From the “yes” camp, Tim Seiter on ITSMWatch.com points out that this is one of the challenges for managers working in smaller organisations, because often they are a working manager and not part of executive management.

This means they have to convince top management of the necessity of spending money on a project that they may not be able to see an obvious return on. Seiter’s answer is to show the value — in dollar terms — that the project will bring.

He suggests IT managers can do this by proving their credibility through small successes before tackling bigger projects.

“Do not try to improve everything at once. Take small steps, and you will have a much better chance of success.”

Writing on Information Age, Graeme Burton quotes Vodafone’s director of technology business strategy, Malcolm Mitchell, who says all IT projects must have a senior management “champion”.

The key, according to Mitchell, is that this champion’s career success should be linked to the success of the project. The further away they are, the more likely it is the project will have problems.

He says the champion must also have the “clout to drive through the project on the business side, overcoming objections from entrenched interests or inertia within the organisation.”

Mitchell tells Burton that because IT projects rarely run smoothly, it is important they have board-level sponsors. “You are going to want to generate friends,” he says.

N Dean Myer is one of those in the “no” camp when it comes to needing top management support: “I say that if you have to ask for it, you don’t deserve it,” he says in CIO Australia.

He believes that seeking such support shows something is wrong and the root causes must be addressed.

“A good idea combined with a good change process shouldn’t have to depend on top management support.”

He says people generally seek such support when trying to get others to change and those others don’t want to. Basically they’re asking for top managers to command staff to accept the change. He says while staff may accept it if the command comes from on high, that does not mean they support it and they could well hinder the project (even if their behaviour isn’t overt).

“When people resist change, bringing top management support down on them only solidifies the antagonism and drives resistance underground.”

Instead you should think about why people resist the change. He says the most common reasons for resistance are:

• People resist changes that are bad for them personally. If this is the case, then he advises not making the change in the first place.

• People resist being changed. Affected people must participate in the change from the beginning. They must “admit the problem, diagnose it, design and implement the change and accept accountability for the results.”

• People being complacent — the status quo is easy, change is hard work so why bother? People need to see a reason for change, a safe destination and a path to get to get there.

One of the people submitting feedback to another CIO article — on change management — sums it up well:

“If a leader can’t articulate why the change is occurring consistent with the company goals, then maybe the leadership needs to re-examine why the change is being made.”

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