When you and your team are in the trenches of software development, do you ever wonder how senior management views your efforts? And while you might even hope that your projects don’t attract much attention from senior managers, knowing how these managers view your project can be a key to project success.

Decision makers’ ideas about your work will likely depend on whether you’re working on the critical path of a larger, long-term program. Since your project is probably for a market opportunity, senior management will focus on the customer benefits. They’ll also verify that the project’s metrics reflect their aspirations for the project as defined at the beginning of the process. Another area to analyze is the project’s total cost (especially if commissioned in-house), which represents a firm choice about how to allocate project resources.

Senior managers’ priorities
Even if they’re part of a board, senior managers may hold on to personal priorities for your project. For instance:

  • A CEO might want to make a contribution to the business over the long term.
  • A CFO might want to avoid risk and focus on the benefit to the bottom line.
  • A CTO might want to show off technical excellence and avoid embarrassing shortfalls.

I think the most galling scenario occurs when the client is happy with a project’s progress, but your organization’s management isn’t. One way to squelch these troubles is to present senior management with interim results throughout the duration of the project. While you might think your project is staying its course, you may discover that the board’s ideas for the project are changing. This gives you an opportunity to inform management about any emerging issues that tack on extra time and/or resources to the project. For example, perhaps:

  • You’re overusing resources too early in the project cycle.
  • Your internal reporting is insufficiently frequent, clear, or reflective of success.
  • Your CEO wants to reuse your project deliverables commercially and is demanding changes personally.
  • Your work isn’t agile enough, generating talk among upper management about making development teams compete.

Sacrificial lamb or golden bullet?
Be sure senior management can’t categorize your project as either a sacrificial lamb or a golden bullet. A sacrificial lamb project might enable someone to say, “We tried that and it failed.” Even worse is the golden bullet project, where a senior officer believes that all of the organization’s problems will magically disappear when your project is complete.

One solution
A solution that works for me is sending out a five-point weekly e-mail project summary to only those executives who “need to know.” Not only does the summary present a full outline of the project status, but it also typically takes only about 30 minutes to complete. It might sound like a lot of time now, but remember that you’re probably protecting yourself from hours of headaches simply by providing senior management with regular reports.

Share your thoughts

How do you think your senior managers see your work? What strategies do you use to keep them in the loop? Post a message in the discussion board below or send us an e-mail.