Strategy is a pattern in a stream of decisions – Henry Mintzberg
Minimal engagement means only contacting the sponsor when absolutely required (e.g. to obtain a signature on a key project document). The rationale here is that the project sponsor is busy and will appreciate keeping engagement short and sweet. This approach can work. Ultimately, it only works in the short term.
Building a relationship with your project sponsor takes more work. This approach also yields greater results for your project (and your career). Consider the possibility that you will likely work with the same executive on a future project. The effort you put in to getting to know them will pay dividends in the future. You may also be the first one to hear about new project opportunities. Keep reading to find three simply ways to improve your project sponsor relationships.
Roman senator and author Marcus Cicero wrote,
To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child.
Until you take the time to understand a person’s history, your relationship will never grow.
Understanding a project sponsor’s history requires a combine of observation and well-crafted questions. I suggest starting with these three points to understand their history.
Who can arriving early make a difference to your project? It’s simple. Let me set the context by explaining what you lose by arriving late.
When you walk into the Thursday 2pm meeting at 2:05pm, several problems occur. Your project team is already seated and waiting for you to arrive.
Several minutes go by as you distribute papers (or tell everyone to open a document on a computer). More time is consumed by asking people to focus on work rather than the weekend. If your project sponsor is in the room, your wait arrival will be seen as a lack of respect.
Here are the benefits to arriving early.
By arriving five minutes early, you can turn on the projector and distribute papers for everyone. You’ll also have a few minutes to see if you left any critical documents in your office.
You will have time to open your PC, open your notebook to a fresh page and otherwise get yourself ready.
Relationships are built one step at a time. Getting to know the project sponsor is no different. I recommend starting small – sharing your weekend plans or mentioning what you like most about the project. Over the course of a six month project, fitting in a few minutes of small talk during each weekly meeting will go a long way toward building a relationship.
Your powers of observation are a key tool in building a stronger relationship with your project sponsor. By focusing your mind on a few questions, you can learn a great deal. Consider these questions and take notes about your project sponsor’s behaviour. I recommend keeping these notes in a paper notebook, rather than on your office computer.
What type of questions does the sponsor ask over and over? Do they show a focus on finances? An interest in customer experience?
Does the sponsor focus in the meeting? Are they looking at people when they speak? Are they looking at their smart phone? These behaviors signal the attention (or lack thereof) of the project sponsor.
Bruce Harpham writes about project management education at Project
Bruce’s experience includes leading projects at a large Canadian financial
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