You know, it’s never easy to get the attention of your project sponsor. He or she is usually a C-level executive and has extremely packed schedules. I never get to see my project sponsor often enough! And it is a big problem for my projects.
When is it important to get the attention of your project sponsor?
Well, when there is a material risk to your project timeline, cost or scope, I suggest you make the time to meet the sponsor.
The trouble is, when he or she is so busy, what kind of tactics can you use to get to them? I’ll show you 5 ways to do it.
1. Get To Know The Admin Assistant
The project sponsor, being the Very Important Person (VIP) that he or she is, will usually have a secretary. I’ll call her the Admin Assistant. Make sure you get to know this person well.
Buy her lunch, get her chocolates. Do whatever it takes to understand this person better.
The reason? She is the key to the project sponsor’s calendar. Sometimes, she will even have the power to move appointments for the project sponsor, especially if she is a trusted secretary.
If you urgently need to get “five minutes of the project sponsor’s time”, guess who you should call first?
Case Study: I once had to find my project sponsor to make a go-live decision over the weekend. He could not be found so I had to call his secretary and asked her to message and call him.
Eventually, he received the secretary’s call and called me back. We made crucial decisions as to whether to go live in spite of some reconciliation breaks in the banking system. The lesson I learnt there was to make sure that I try all means of accessing my sponsor before giving up.
2. Do Not Email
If you need to speak to the project sponsor urgently, my advice is NOT to email. Email might get read by the sponsor on the Blackberry, but the messaging can often be misconstrued.
I suggest that if you wish to email the sponsor, make sure you follow up with a call or a face-to-face meeting as soon as you can.
When your project is in dire straits, you simply cannot afford to assume the project sponsor will (1) read your email and (2) not misunderstand the contents of your email.
3. Approach His Or Her Ally
If you know your project sponsor has an ally in the organization, approach that person and check where the project sponsor is.
Ask this person to pass a message to the project sponsor to call you immediately.
It’s usually quite obvious who is on the side of your sponsor and who is not. Fortunately or unfortunately, office politics are part and parcel of project delivery.
You have to learn to see who is on the side of your sponsor, and befriend them. They can give you intangible benefits in terms of not just locating your sponsor, but convincing him or her to certain viewpoints as well.
Tip: Convince your project sponsor’s closest ally in the organization and you have a good chance of convincing your project sponsor too.
4. Text Messaging
The other way to get the attention of your project sponsor is to text a message to his or her phone. I’ve tried this on projects before, and it works sometimes. The immediacy of a text message on the phone tends to grab the sponsor’s attention.
But I’d say that you should only resort to this if you have tried calling or meeting face-to-face and have failed. The reason is that, like email, text messages can be misinterpreted and cause a lot of unnecessary confusion.
5. Stalk Your Sponsor
Yes, I meant that. Literally go and stalk your sponsor. If you know where he or she is during lunch on a typical day, go and hang out at the lunch joint. If you know where he or she sits, go and hang out at the desk area. More often than not, you WILL bump into your project sponsor and he or she will be forced to listen to you.
Case Study: I once had an urgent scope issue to clarify with my project sponsor. The users were clamouring that an enhancement was to be included in the new system, or else it should not go live.
I had previously discussed this with my sponsor and he firmly said no to the enhancement. However, I could not find him through calls, text messaging or emails. As a result, I had to “stalk” him and camped outside his office for an entire afternoon, periodically checking if he came back to his desk.
Eventually, I DID catch him in the evening when he returned to his office from an external meeting. I managed to get the scope issue clarified with the users and bedded it down – but not without sacrificing quite a bit of time to “stalk” my sponsor.
Wrapping Up …
If you are ever in a situation where you cannot find your sponsor or are trying to reach him or her but to no avail, apply the above techniques to the situation.
You see, project sponsors are usually not trying to avoid you. They are literally swamped by 1001 requests on their time, so you need to make sure you shout the loudest.
Do it through any means necessary – because very often it means the difference between a successful and unsuccessful project.
Until next time, good luck with your project!