Another great rule for getting great sponsors is to watch your language. Too many project managers and project reporting systems overcommunicate with executives and, worse , overcommunicate in the wrong language.
We observed a perfect example of this problem when we were advising a client regarding a project that was in serious trouble. The project involved upgrading operating systems on the corporate PCs. The client company was an early adopter of a new operating system release and the project was more than six months behind schedule. A significant factor in the delays was the operating system vendor's inability to solve technical problems without shifting the blame to other impacted vendors , such as the network supplier.
By the time we became involved, the project was considered such an issue that the CEO requested a briefing for himself and the entire executive team. This sent the team into a panic and, fearing a Spanish Inquisition, they assembled a complete record of all the technical problems, how the vendor had responded, and so on. They then spent hours preparing full briefing documents (in full color ) and actually rehearsed the presentation.
We were invited to attend the CEO briefing and watched as the project manager began to present a very complex and technical presentation along these lines: "Now if you'll turn to page 26 you will see that we raised the problem of the recursive articulator bug with Vendor A who then replied that it wasn't a recursive articulator bug but in fact a circular articulator bug caused by Vendor B's network concrosinator!"
The CEO, who happened to be one of the highest paid people in Australia, became increasingly restless as he flicked through the report in front of him. He raised his hand, which stopped the project manager in midsentence, and said gently, "Look, tell me how the organization will be better off when the project is over."
The project manager and the team members were simply lost for words. They (and the project) were saved by another executive whose group had been a test site for the new operating system. This executive explained that her people had found the new operating system more stable and this led to significant productivity gains. The CEO was satisfied and simply said to the project manager, "Continue the project."
The meeting was over and we saw no executive either read or take the complex report that so many hours had been spent on.
The rule here is simple but powerful. As the wonderful scene from the movie Jerry McGuire put it, "Show me the money." In the case of your sponsor, show him or her the money. You should avoid technical jargon and you should put everything not in English, but in money terms.
For example, you might have some trouble getting your information to the executive who needs to make the decision (see Rule 3). You have a team of five people at an average cost of $1,200 per day. So instead of saying, "The situation is that each day we lose means that we could miss the deadline," try this: "Each day there is a delay in this decision being made means we are losing $6,000." Better still, try this: "Each day there is a delay means that we are losing $6,000 and placing at risk the benefits realization of $2 million." That should get some action!
The key point of this rule is to keep your communication short and focused on the business and financial impact. In effect, this is a variation on a standard risk management concept known as consequence-based reporting. This technique focuses on the consequence of not acting rather than simply reporting the action required.
Also, there are a couple of associated subrules that deal with the broader issue of why people change. The first is that people won't change unless there is either an advantage to them for changing or a disadvantage for them if they don't change. The use of these rules and, in particular, this rule should help you here. The second is that people are often unaware of how their behavior affects other people. By simply explaining (in a factual and nonemotional manner) how their action (or lack of) affects the project, you'll often find the person simply saying, "Oh! I didn't know that was the situation. I'll deal with it straight away."