Each week, project management veteran Tom Mochal provides valuable advice on planning and managing projects. He first describes a common problem scenario based on a real-life situation and then offers a solution using practical project management practices and techniques.

Tim was a wreck when I saw him today. His sponsor was beating him up over the difficulties Tim was having trying to deploy wireless devices to the sales organization. Tim’s a good guy and a decent project manager, but it looks like he’s missing a key person on his project.

The dilemma
“This rollout project is taking a lot longer than we anticipated,” Tim told me. “But there are so many things out of our control. We’re trying to get the sales staff to work with us on this, but we’re not getting the cooperation we need.”

I knew Tim’s pilot project had gone smoothly, so I asked what was getting in the way of the broader rollout.

“The pilot project was made up of motivated sales people who were interested in how these devices could work for them,” Tim said. “The general sales staff doesn’t have this same level of motivation. It’s like pulling teeth trying to get them to go to training and utilize the devices as they should.”

I asked Tim what other problems he was encountering. He mentioned a couple of areas. Although business users are assigned to his team, he was having difficulty getting their time for the business specifications. They were also negotiating contracts with third-party content providers. Tim had the contracts group engaged, but he was having a hard time getting the sponsor’s time.

I knew the sponsor is upset about how long this project was taking. “What does he say about the problems you’re encountering?” I asked.

“You know the sales division has a major focus on selling our new product line,” Tim said. “The wireless project is supposed to be one of the enablers for this effort, but, frankly, he has 10 other things that are more important. He sends out memos to try to help us, but he might be too far removed from the problems we’re facing.”

Clearly, Tim’s sponsor was at too high a level to be effective. What the rollout needed was someone at a lower level to help with the details that were tripping the project up. “Let’s talk about what the role of that person needs to be,” I suggested, “and then talk to your sponsor one more time.”

Mentor advice
Tim was struggling because of a void in the project organization. He’s viewed as the project manager, but he is specifically the IT project manager. On many projects, that’s enough. However, when the project has a major impact on the business client organization, the business side needs to contribute a counterpart who can spearhead the necessary work to make the changes happen. This person could be called a business project manager or a project sponsor (as compared to the higher-level executive sponsor).

Based on the information Tim gave me, the business project manager would be able to perform two broad roles. First, he or she would be responsible for championing the organizational changes required from the sales staff. Since the business project manager comes from the sales organization, he or she would be able to talk in business terms with the sales managers and staff and be better able to articulate the benefits that the sales staff will receive. The business project manager also has more direct access to the project sponsor and can help the sponsor focus on the pressure points within the organization. Tim has good intentions, but because of the organizational differences, he has a limited ability to drive changes through a business division.

The business project sponsor can also help in another major area: directing and managing the sales staff that is providing business requirements. Tim is trying to coordinate with them for their time and energy. A business project manager from their organization would be able to get the resources more effectively. These people could even report directly to the business project manager. Again, because Tim is in the IT organization, he’s less able to make this happen.

Of course, it’s possible Tim could be more effective in managing expectations, communicating effectively, and handling resource planning and risk management. However, under these circumstances, improvements in those areas will not ensure success. When major business changes are needed, the business needs to step up with a business project manager to drive the changes within their organization.

Project management veteran Tom Mochal is director of internal development at a software company in Atlanta. Most recently, he worked for the Coca-Cola Company, where he was responsible for deploying, training, and coaching the IS division on project management and life-cycle skills. He’s also worked for Eastman Kodak and Cap Gemini America and has developed a project management methodology called TenStep.