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Charlie is out Feeding the Chickens

Growing up I heard about a distant relative named Charlie who was often AWOL when dinner was ready to be served.   “Where is Charlie?” would be the question asked by the grandmother, and the response by the kids in unison was always “Charlie is out feeding the chickens”.   Charlie often choose the wrong time to go out to the barnyard and feed the chickens.

Microsoft Dynamics NAV executive sponsor on a projectI have seen both good and bad executive sponsors on Microsoft Dynamics NAV projects.  The good executive sponsors are engaged, informed and make decisions quickly.  Sometimes I see executive sponsors that are not so good and are essentially out feeding the chickens while dinner is being served.   As an executive sponsor you really do not want to be out feeding the chickens during dinner because there is the risk that your project might be suffering without your interaction.

Here are my five common sense recommendations on how to be a better executive sponsor and stay out of the hen house:

  1. Stay in the loop.  A simple concept often forgotten. Often executive sponsors sign the paperwork, go away and assume that things will be going just fine and they will get what they want in the end.   Make sure that the project manager crafts a communication plan that includes you at the level of formality and frequency that is appropriate for your culture and project.  Readjust the communication plan during the lifecycle of the project if you feel unconnected or if you feel you are getting too much information.
  2. Ask questions.  Anyone can ask questions about a project or the process; even the executive sponsor.   Asking questions shows the project manager and team that you are engaged.  If the team believes you are engaged then you will get a better result than if the team feels you are disassociated from the project.
  3. Be prepared to reconsider project constraints.  Projects start off with a plan that is created based upon the information and constraints known at the time of the plan creation.  Unfortunately, things change after the project starts, new requirements are discovered or created, new people come into play, politics enter the project, the team’s velocity is not what was expected, the technical nature of the project was more complex than originally thought and stuff just happens. Trying to make the project work after there is a requirement change, without modifying the project constraints is sometimes like trying to put a gift back into a box after you unwrapped it, it just never looks or is the same again.   Be prepared to sit down with your project manager and brainstorm ideas on how to modify constraints to achieve the goals and objectives of the project.
  4. Think business value.  I constantly hear people talk about project success as being on-time and on-budget; this kind of thinking is simply wrong.  Project success is about delivering business value to the sponsoring organization, in other words enabling a capability within an organization.   Time and budget are constraints to the project and not success factors.   My point here is do not save a penny and risk not getting business value to your organization.  Think about business value and the impact of costs on the ROI. 
  5. Ask what you can do to help.  Often I see executive sponsors in the bleachers watching the tennis ball go back and forth.   The executive sponsor is not on the team but there is much an executive sponsor can do to help the project.   Ask the project manager if a pep talk would help the team this week, or ask if you can remove an impediment for the team; the point is “just ask”. 

Now put down the chicken feed and get back to the dinner table before the family dog jumps on the table and drags off the chicken carcass.

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