It may sound enticing to have a project where the customer or sponsor leaves you alone to just manage the project. Sounds like we can get a lot of work done that way, right? What about the decision you need on a requirement to include a link from their new HR system you’re installing to their accounting system? You are at a crossroads in that process and you need some client information and clarification fast from someone in charge and possibly someone with the authority to pay the money to do it right via a much needed change order. You need the project sponsor. But he’s nowhere to be found.
We should be able to expect good participation from our project team members. We should be able to expect help from our senior management and key stakeholders along the way – after all they have some sort of vested interest in the success or failure of the project. Likewise, we should certainly be able to expect the ongoing participation and availability of our project customer. But I’ve found that to not always be the case, unfortunately. Why? Well, we must remember that – in many cases – our key contact on the customer side has a day job. This project is likely not their job – not the only activity they have going on at the moment. It is probably something that affects their regular job, department or employees so they have a keen interest in its success…hence they are the point person for the customer. Or it could be that it was just thrust upon them. But either way, these things can limit their availability to us and the project on a daily basis. How do we keep them engaged on OUR project? I have an action list that works for me …and it involves forced engagement through these three tactics…
Assign them tasks, however small they may be. Keep your project customer engaged, if for no other way than by keeping them assigned to small tasks throughout the project. And make them report on them every week on the weekly project status call. They can be contrived, but make them look important. The key is to keep them accountable to SOMETHING so they feel compelled to attend meetings and report status updates. They don’t want to be the ones slowing the project down or dropping the ball during status meetings. Make sure the tasks seem important enough. Or you can actually give them important tasks. Either way, it should help get them to the meetings and keep them from hiding away for days or weeks at a time.
Have senior management reach out to clients periodically. Any client who is given frequent access to or contact by the delivery organization’s CEO or other C-level representative is going to consider themselves a significant customer of yours. And they will consider that their project is of utmost importance to your organization. They aren’t likely going to want to skip those calls or that involvement when they can get it. Trust me, this works if you can get your CEO to buy-in to it. And if you plead your case well enough, he or she will.
Discuss potential scope issues with the sponsor. This may be one of those cases of negative attention seeking, but there is no such thing as bad publicity. If you start talking change orders, you’ll definitely get your client’s attention. You need at least a believable issue to bring up, but that usually isn’t too hard on a longer-term, complex project. Look around…even if it’s potential new business with the client…draft a change order and request a meeting. You’ll get someone there.
Summary / call for input
There are always a few tricky ways to get your client’s attention even when it seems that they have hopelessly disappeared from the project. If it does get bad enough, you’ll likely need to go over their heads – perhaps even to their CEO. Letting their executive management know that they are potentially harming their project due to inactivity or lack of availability will probably get the ball rolling. It may even get you a new, more involved project sponsor.
Has this ever been a problem for you? Have you ever been leading a large scale, complex project and then suddenly you seem to have lost the participation or interest or availability of the sponsor? I know it is usually the other way around – it truly is – but this scenario happens as well…just not as often. If you’ve experienced it, please share your thoughts and discuss.
About Brad Egeland
Brad Egeland is a Business Solution Designer and IT/PM consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience leading initiatives in Manufacturing, Government Contracting, Creative Design, Gaming and Hospitality, Retail Operations, Aviation and Airline, Pharmaceutical, Start-ups, Healthcare, Higher Education, Non-profit, High-Tech, Engineering and general IT. Brad is married, a father of 11, and living in sunny Las Vegas, NV. Visit Brad’s site at http://www.bradegeland.com/.