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Barebones Business Sponsorship, Part 1

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Dear readers—Please forward this to the business sponsor of the projects you might be working on. Ask them to subscribe as well!

Hi Business Sponsor!

You haven’t been my sponsor before, so I figured we should make sure we’re thinking about the role the same way.

Starting with this: I know you still have your “regular” job too. And now, as sponsor, you’re also setting the course for changing your job and others. You’ll be doing this by using some sort of technology, which is why you’re the business sponsor and why we’re working together. Your responsibilities are greater, and this effort is going to be more work for you until the project is launched and accepted by your staff, peers, and other stakeholders. Then it will continue to be more work for you until the project wraps up and the intended business change becomes reality.

You are feeling some sort of pressure to make this change, and this isn’t comfortable for you or the project’s other stakeholders. We are all dealing with a lot of change right now, and part of your role, is to be the person who makes intentional change happen for the organization. Undoubtedly, there is a lot riding on this project.

If the project goes well, you may get a promotion, save the business, or have engaging, congratulatory conversations with everyone involved. If there are rocky moments, people will be looking to you, and hoping that you have good answers and a calm demeanor. Let’s try to help you have more of the first kind of encounters, and fewer of the second kind.

This week, let’s start with your initial communication with IT, whether IT is internal, consultants, or any sort of hybrid). As business sponsor it’s up to you to set the tone in the relationship, just as you should be the one who sets the ground rules and expectations for open, trusted, clear communication.

From previous work in this column, here is a cheat sheet of questions that you should have an answer for and communicate with your IT team.

  • What, when it is all said and done, is the point of the project?
  • Who in authority wants it to succeed?
  • Who has the authority to define success?
  • Who has the authority to make decisions, resolve issues, and delegate authority?

How you present this to the IT team is up to you—Slides, a written doc, or working on a whiteboard are all good tools. But the trick isn’t in your answers—it is to make sure that your teammates heard you, and that you understand each other.

Enter an old tool from my Army days—The Back Brief.

Somewhere in the history of really tired people doing dangerous things, it became apparent that just because one person gives instructions doesn’t mean that the other person has heard the instructions, let alone has understood them.  Out of this, the Back Brief was born. (Actually, I don’t know exactly where this tool originated—but I first learned about it from leaders that I worked for in the Army.)

The simplest version of this is to ask the other person (IT, in this case) to take a few minutes, read their notes from your communication, and then tell you their understanding of the same four questions that you gave your answers to previously. You give your thoughts, IT digests these questions and answers, and presents their understanding back to you.

You ask questions and give feedback until all parties agree on their mutual understanding of the goals.

After this discussion, you will notice a few things:

  • You will feel like you have alignment with IT, and your stress level will go down significantly.
  • IT will be able to better give you choices and time/budget estimates, much earlier.
  • You and IT will catch major flaws in the charter far earlier.

This tool, used effectively at the beginning, saves you a lot of headaches later. We’ll introduce other tools that make your day better as a business sponsor in upcoming columns.