Engage leaders in projects: the CEO’s role

My previous post described the first two aspects of a CEO’s role in a project based organization.   The remaining aspects are to engage leaders at the right points in projects and to use systems thinking for consistency and repeatability.

Engage leaders

Ensure that key projects have effective sponsors.  I think of a sponsor as a powerful advocate for a project and its team. A good sponsor casts a clear and compelling vision for the benefits of the project, gets decisions made and is typically held accountable by the senior management team for project success.

This is supported by research. For several decades, the Standish Group has analyzed projects to identify and rank the factors that work together the make projects more successful. Standish’s ranking for 2015 show that executive sponsorship is a top-tier factor. Standish defines it as “when an executive or group of executives agrees to provide both financial and emotional backing. The executive or executives will encourage and assist in the successful completion of the project.1

Ensure that company leaders participate at critical points in key projects.  For most projects, participation should be most intense at three points:

  1. At the start of a project, create a clear and shared definition of its purpose and desired outcomes.
  2. In the middle, ensure checkpoints, progress measurement, and effective escalations.
  3. Near the end, assess what benefits were achieved and what lessons were learned. Ensure that results of the project are smoothly deployed or transitioned to subsequent projects.

Use systems thinking

Set up a simple, repeatable system for running projects.  Such a system helps the people working on a project consistently handle responsibilities, status, decision-making, and coordination, rather than reinventing it for every new project.   A good system focuses on action, communication, and coordination rather than paperwork and bureaucracy.   I look for these characteristics in a system:

  1. Bridges functions and disciplines
  2. Assigns leadership and accountability
  3. Empowers project teams to handle issues and make decisions quickly, independent of functional structure
  4. Pushes projects forward by quickly removing roadblocks and encouraging clear communication within and between projects

Five themes

Summarizing these two posts, I see five common themes in how a CEO successfully builds a project-based organization.

  1. Nourish a project-based culture.
  2. Walk the talk every day.
  3. Ensure that key projects have effective sponsors.
  4. Ensure that company leaders participate at critical points in key projects.
  5. Set up a simple, repeatable system for running projects in a consistent way.

My next and final post on this topic will share some tips and pitfalls I’ve seen at real companies.

1 (Standish Group 2015 Chaos Report – Q&A with Jennifer Lynch, retrieved 1/4/16 from http://www.infoq.com/articles/standish-chaos-2015)

Posted in Management, Projects.

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