Rule 3: You Generally Get the Sponsor You Deserve
It is often said that people get the government they deserve. While acting as project management consultants on a large reengineering project, our group observed a similar situation with respect to project sponsors. The CEO of the organization had decided to fully empower a group of nine senior project managers. These project managers were managing a group of related projects involved in over $1 billion worth of organization redesign projects. The CEO made it clear that the project managers had the authority to decide what and how many meetings and committees they had to be involved in during their projects. This included whether they wanted to have project steering committees as well.
Initially, all the project managers decided on using project steering committees comprised of very senior executives. After three months, we reviewed the steering committee situation. Five of the project managers were adamant that their own steering committee added value to their projects and, as a result, they wanted the steering committee process to remain . The other four project managers felt that their steering committees were a waste of time and wanted to disband them.
The problem that our group had with this result was that all nine project managers had steering committees comprised of the same executives! Clearly, the issue here, given that all project managers had the same people on the steering committees was: (a) the members of the steering committees acted differently for different projects or, (b) the individual project managers acted differently toward their steering committees, resulting in different behavior.
After some research, we established that the behavior of the project managers was indeed the issue. Those who wanted their steering committee to remain had communicated openly with and proactively involved their steering committee members in decision making. Those project managers who wanted to abolish their steering committees had communicated poorly with and generally placed the members of their committees in reactive decision-making roles.
As we explain in Rules 4, 5, and 6, by communicating honestly, clearly, nontechnically, and in a timely fashion, you can influence the behavior of your senior executives in a positive manner. By delaying your communication and by using, in effect, blackmail tactics such as, "The project is in trouble and unless you then it'll fail," you could also influence the behavior of your senior executives in a negative manner.
We have since observed and confirmed this situation on many projects.