Project Planning For Project Sponsors: Clarity, Assignment and Projects

April 27, 2012 by  Filed under: Management 

As a manager, you’ve almost certainly been made aware of the need for clarity when assigning work or discussing work matters with the people who report to you. It’s part of the basic training for managers.

It’s one thing to be diplomatic. Or rude. The need for the one should be understood. There is never any need for the other. However, in between is the rule of clarity in your orders. It’s why a sergeant shouts his orders. And why he always breaks them into two parts.

In an operating environment, clarity in your orders to your subordinates isn’t always a good thing. You always need to give your managers a little wiggle room. A little space to use their own skills and mental abilities. And a little room to save face.

But managing operating departments isn’t like managing a project.

Operating departments run cycles over extended periods of time. There is always one more chance to try again. One more chance to get it right.

A project is a single, big burst of expense, energy and action. There is one and only one chance to get things right. And getting it right means that everyone needs to be on the same page.

For a project sponsor, clarity and getting it right means many things. In this article, I’m going to share four of them.

Firstly, you need to be very clear about why you are looking for this project. Everything from the scope to the relationship of the team with stakeholders will be affected by why this project is being done. The reasons behind this project will guide the project manager as he or she makes decisions throughout the project. And they’ll guide the project team during the planning process.

Second you need to be very clear about the objectives of the project. Your project manager needs to know how you will judge them. They need to know how you and your superiors define success. And they need to know what is most important. Even the methodology used to will change depending on how you define success and what you consider most important.

Third you need to be very clear about what is and isn’t included in the project. In project terms, this is called the scope of the project and it is the central node of the so-called triple constraint. Your project manager and the team will be guided by this in develop the project plan. Later they will be guided by this in determining what changes to accept and which to funnel upwards to yourself and the steering committee. Even more importantly, you need to clearly explain the boundaries to the stakeholders. Often people, who will rely on the output of the project, seek to get as much as possible from the project. This is understandable. However, it is also a source of conflict between the project team, the project manager and the stakeholder. By being clear up front to all parties, you can reduce the conflict.

Fourth, you need to be clear on the organizational structure of the project. Political battles are part of the team building process. They can either help the team to jell, or they can polarize the team. One of the problems your project manager is going to have is a lack of organizational authority. They are your representative but no one on the project team actually reports to them. This can lead to political problems as individuals try to establish their supremacy. As sponsor, you need to support your project manager both to the team and to the stakeholder community.

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Glen Ford is an accomplished project management consultant, trainer and writer. He has over 20 years experience as a project manager in such diverse projects as Construction, IT, Software Development, Marketing and Business Startup. He is a serial entrepreneur who quite literally learned to be an entrepreneur at his great-grandfather’s knee.

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