What to do about ineffective sponsors

The sponsor's behaviours set the tone for everyone but are they always beneficial?

The sponsor’s behaviours set the tone for everyone but are they always beneficial?

Research from Scott Keller and Colin Price (McKinsey’s) in their book,”Beyond Performance: HowGreat Organizations Build Ultimate Competitive Advantage,” points to programme or project sponsorship as being the most critical factor in achieving project success. I agree with them. Unfortunately in organisations with low maturity in programme and project management, this role is often  totally missing, misunderstood or the behaviours promote the wrong outcomes. This doesn’t seem to be an uncommon problem. But what can you do about it? One writer, Peter Taylor, proposes that a PMO could act as a surrogate “sponsor” and be used to help senior executives understand and perform that role better.

Have a look at his full article here, and see what you think.

Now imagine, if sponsorship was done well, what a difference that would make: programmes and projects would link to strategy, be prioritised on the basis of business benefit and only done if the need or opportunity is compelling . . . even if money is left over in the annual budget!!! Perhaps we could even go as far as the funds being assigned to the projects themselves, rather than to departments (cost centres) doing the work; now there’s a thought. CFOs, pay attention! Also consider, how can “portfolio management” work, if the role of the sponsor is not understood?

Let me know your thoughts on this. Are the programme and project sponsors in your organisation effective? If so, how did you achieve that? If not, how are you tackling the problem? I think that this is one of the great challenges to improving programme and project performance; there is only so much the “middle” can do, the “top” needs to play their part too.

See also my blog, “Enemies within” in which I argue senior management get the peformance they deserve. Controversial, eh?

Be a nut, be a leader!

Leadership

A leaders on his or her own is useless. There must be followers and the “first follower” is the most important, if change is to happen.

Do you think leadership is glorious? Is change totally dependent on the
leader? Do you think if a person looks ridiculous, they aren’t a leader?
Have a look at this video from Derek Sivers, I think you’ll enjoy it . . . and you might change your views on leadership:

See the Dancing Guy video.

So what’s the bottom line?

  1. If you are a version of the shirtless dancing guy, all alone, remember the importance of nurturing your first few followers as equals, making everything clearly about the movement, not you.
  2. Be public. Be easy to follow!
  3. But the biggest lesson here – did you catch it? – Leadership is over-glorified
  4. It started with the shirtless nut, and he’ll get all the credit, but it was the first follower who transformed a lone nut into a leader.
  5. There is no movement without the first follower.

We’re told we all need to be leaders, but that would be really ineffective. The best way to make a movement, if you really care, is to courageously follow and show others how to follow. So, when you find a lone nut doing something great . . . .

Have the guts to be the first person to stand up and join in.

Source: Derek Sivers; www.sivers.org

PPM but not as we know it – learn from the Romans

Emperor Sponsus - visionary and leaderI am sure you’ll want to go home, put your feet up and forget about your programmes and projects for a while . . . but what if withdrawal symptoms set in and you have that urge to peek at your Blackberry or just take a look at that last report . . . help is at hand with a book extolling the virtues of programme and project management on the scale of the Roman Empire. Follow Emperor Sponsus on his path to glory and the trials and tribulations of general Marcus Projex Magna as he struggles to turn Sponsus’ vision into a reality.

This is programme management that you won’t learn about at Saeed Business School’s BT Centre for Major Programme Management in Oxford, nor from PMI or APM or MSP, nor anywhere else, for that matter.

Click here to download your cartoon book: How Rome was lost

Leadersip by command or intent?

I was at the Regents College (European Business School) earlier this year at a Business forum I am a member of. That evening’s speaker was Duncan Christie Miller and his theme was “The History and Reality of Modern Day Leadership”.  Being a military man, he used a number of military examples, showing how different styles can affect outcomes.

I’ll simplify his talk. First he showed a clip of a film where the general was on the high ground and the troops all lined up in the centre, with cavalry on the wings. All good stuff. The general gave “commands” and won the battle.

However, a later example had the same scenario but guns and cannons had been invented and very soon, the smoke obscured the battle field and the general was unable to give effective directions. The “line of command” approach had broken down. . . . and yes, he lost.

The Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz came up with an answer. Rather than the general giving direct commands which MUST be obeyed, the general gives his “intent” to his commanders, and they had to make decisions on the ground, based on their own judgement, concerning what to do to ensure the general’s intent was achieved. It worked rather well. In fact a commander could be disciplined for “blindly obeying” an order. This was totally unknown in the British army at the time, where “command”  was so strong, that people knowingly did stupid things, when ordered – do you remember the charge of the light brigade? Duncan said perhaps this “command” approach is still too strong,  as witnessed by a British warship standing by doing nothing while Somali pirates recently took over a merchant ship under their noses while they waited for instructions from London.

The shift from line of command to line of intent in the Prussian army happened in order to react to a different and more complex (and smoky) environment. The old way of fighting was dead and the new ways required a different approach.

Duncan concluded by asking the attendees how relevant this story is in the modern, complex business world, where, like a general, the CEO or VP up a chain of command cannot see it all and know it all. He said, there is still a place for “commands” but perhaps, “intent” is more powerful for much of what we do.

Here is an example from my early civil engineering days. In 1979, I was in Yemen, on a team of five, supervising a harbour construction (at today’s costs about £100m). We had no phones and no internet. There were two telex machines in the local post office with limited access, some 2 miles from the site.  Most communication was via the weeklyAir France flight which took the post – turn-round time alomost 3 weeks. The “intent” was communicated to us by means of the drawings and specifications and we had to make week by week and day by day decisions, based on what happened on the ground. It worked. We made a lot of decisions with no reference to “head office” and the harbour complex was completed on time and underbudget. Yasar Arrafat opend it!   I rather think that in these more modern days of instant 24/7 communications, we  would never be allowed that freedom. In fact cofusion would have increased as head office could have “interfered” from a distance with no direct view of what was actually happening on the ground. Insttead the focussed on the really big issues, uncluttered by th minutiae of day to day construction.

So in that situation, line of intent was probably more effective than direct commands. Only “big” commands were needed and these were never urgent.

What’s your view on this? have you anyreal-life  stories and experience to share on the pros and cons of the two approaches? Join in the discussion.