Exceptional management support and project success
June 20, 2018
For a project to succeed, strong top management support and sponsorship is vital. This is not only our personal experience from various projects and programs, but it is also confirmed by scientific research. Professors Matti Rossi and Kari Smolander recently conducted two meta-analyses on success and failure factors in ERP programs and complex digital transformations at Midagon’s request.
The objective of these analyses was to identify the factors underlying the success and failure of complex ICT programs. Overall, the results were highly interesting. Top management’s support and sponsorship was the number one success factor in both studies. Similarly, lack of adequate management support was among the key factors explaining failures.
Over the past 20 years, we have seen outstanding examples of exceptional top management support in our projects and programs. We will next introduce some of these examples covering support from business owners, other top management or programs’ steering groups.
In one program with an unusually tight schedule and high importance, the CIO gave a speech and said that if the initiative failed, he would be the one accountable for the failure. This carried a message of the CIO’s commitment and the importance of the program. Naturally, this did not remove program manager’s responsibility.
In a kick-off of one major program, the business owner communicated the priority as follows: “If our office catches fire, fighting the fire is the number one priority. In all other circumstances, the tasks related to this program are the number one priority.” After this message, the work of the program manager requiring contributions from a busy organization was much easier.
As program managers, we have used several different communication channels (one-to-one calls, memos, short catch-up meetings, shared links of dynamically updated documents) to keep the business owner and the steering group up to date with the progress. One advantage s is that when we have had the steering group meeting, everyone has been up-to date on program status, and we have been able to focus more intensively on key issues.
For example, a good sales director can tell exactly what she or he wants from his CRM system and what KPIs are needed to track sales. After setting the requirements, she or he understands that there are far more competitive persons on the team to do the actual design – e.g. architecture. It is the leader’s strength to understand this and to rely on the expertise of their team in these decisions. By delegating responsibility to the experts, management also improves the team members’ commitment to the program. In general, this has led to better quality results.
When things go well, it is great to notice the trust building between us as program managers and the management team. Because of trust, we in the programs are authorized to make smaller decisions independently. This increases our efficiency and in the big picture, speeds up the progress of the program and reduces costs. This again builds up joint good-will, that is needed in difficult times.
In one program, we faced a problem with the interpretation of personal data regulations. There was a risk of a significant delay in the program. After the issue was escalated to the business owner, it took only a few hours, before a meeting with the Data Protection Ombudsman was scheduled. The problem was resolved, and the program schedule was saved.
In problem situations, it is the program manager’s responsibility to ensure that the management is not bothered with every small issue. Help should only be requested, when there is a real need for management support and advice.
Top management support is crucial for program success. At the same time, the program manager must know his / her role and responsibility as the subject and enabler of the support. Providing exceptional management support does not require huge time commitments. It instead shows up as commitment, clearly communicated priorities and trust.
Ilkka Töyrylä and Marko Niskanen
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