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The End of Fairy Tale Beginnings

The End of Fairy Tale Beginnings

Spellbound stakeholders can chain your project to the dungeon of disaster. Here's how to lift the curse for a happily-ever-after ending.

"And they all lived happily ever after." That's how fairy tales end. Unfortunately, IT projects are more likely to have fairy tale beginnings than endings.

As our story opens, the project is held captive by the wicked stepsponsor who doesn't care about you or the initiative. An overcommitted team lead is clearly bewitched, and an underproductive technical resource plays the role of ogre. Add an evil troll oversight manager and a gaggle of invisible users, and even Pixar would have a tough time managing a PG rating.

Riding his faithful steed, the project manager gallops in to save the day . . . and gets blindsided by the antagonists in the first act, destroying all hope for the project.

These characters aren't really villains; in fact, they're key stakeholders whose support is crucial to the success of your project. But they're spellbound by their current mind-sets. Unless you can cast a counter spell to disperse their negative energy, the risk to the project is overwhelming.

Here are some ways to identify enchanted stakeholders and release them and the project from almost certain doom.

The Wicked Stepsponsor

The sponsor's role is vital. He is expected to approve milestones, supply funding and run interference for the project. Either an ally or a foe is better than someone who lacks interest in the project entirely. If your sponsor acts as the project champion, you have to resist adding extras, but you can work with his energy. If he is against the project, help him identify the reasons it should be dropped instead of fighting a losing battle.

If your sponsor isn't involved, however, the risk of not fulfilling the project objectives spikes. Watch out for any of the following signs of evil:

• Whenever your project is discussed, the sponsor switches the topic of conversation.

• Status meetings are regularly cancelled.

• Funding for any other project pillages your budget.

But you can break through that cold exterior and engage the uninterested sponsor. Here's how:

Think like him. Understand his priorities, how he best receives information (e-mail, voice mail, face to face), his group's pressures and the direction in which he wants to move. This knowledge will increase the effectiveness of your communication.

Keep communications brief. News flash: Sponsors have a limited amount of time. Lengthy reports and e-mails get ignored. Tailor the status reports and use Gantt charts or graphs to communicate faster.

Determine and communicate project benefits. Projects are undertaken for a reason. What pain was this one intended to stop? Is it a regulatory requirement, or someone's pet idea? Quantifying the expected benefits allows the sponsor to weigh them against project costs. A simple projection of return on investment, focused on the sponsor's pressures and priorities, will communicate the benefits.

Create and articulate the goal. Using the identified benefits, create a short statement that explains what you plan to accomplish. A good example would be "to accept online purchases, reducing transaction fees and saving $100,000 annually". Equipping your team-mates with a goal gives them focus and helps them articulate it.

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