Do your organization's senior managers and executives understand the benefits of project management? How do you know?
Do your organization's senior managers and executives have formal training in project management?
Are large projects sponsored by and continually reviewed by senior management and /or executives? What is reviewed, and how often?
Do your senior managers and executives have their business processes mapped for their areas of responsibility?
It is a fact that good, proven, measurable business processes are critical to running an efficient organization, and also assist the project manager to deliver beneficial project results. It is also a sad fact that most senior managers and executives don't want to deal with things like business processes, yet it is the business processes that make or break organizations and projects, and bad business processes can cause an organization to waste time and money.
EMOTIONAL OUTBURST - If senior management isn't involved in reviewing their business processes to ensure they are delivering efficient results then they are either lazy or incompetent.
END OF EMOTIONAL OUTBURST
We can all agree that if senior managers and executives aren't regularly reviewing the performance of their organization (including the effectiveness of their business processes) they are not acting as responsible leaders. We have all heard them say that they just want somebody to figure out the problems and fix them, but many times that is where their participation ends. There is often no follow-up and no personal accountability for results. While problems need to be found and fixed, the "find them and fix them" mentality doesn't work for large projects. In fact, it can prove disastrous.
Project management is about delivering change. Executives and senior management have to drive the change, monitor the change, and ensure the change takes place. Change that isn't driven and monitored by senior management won't be accepted by the organization.
Don't get me wrong, we all need to have a "get it done" mindset, however on its own a get it done attitude isn't effective when dealing with today's enterprise problems and projects. Large projects create large change. Many times change creates, fear, panic, and chaos. Project managers can't implement change or change organizations alone. In fact, I would argue that for the most part they can't change organizations at all.
If you want organizational change and you want large project results at the same time then your organization's executives and senior management must be involved from the start, they must be continuously engaged, and the must be out front and visibly leading the change. Additionally, they need to be able to clearly and effectively communicate the value of the enterprise project's deliverables to their organizations. If they are unwilling to do these things, then your large project may need to be altered, deferred, or killed.
PERSONAL RANT: It is unacceptable for an organization to spend large sums of money on a project if senior management isn't prepared to roll up their sleeves and understand what is being delivered, understand the benefits of the deliverables, willing to hold others accountable for results, have an enthusiastic attitude, and have personal accountability tied to the project's success.
Project managers and team members can't afford to work on projects where ignorance and indifference is prevalent. Also, project teams can't afford to have "Teflon" managers" managing resources on the external resource teams, or in the positions of power or influence over their projects. Teflon" managers are never personally accountable for any project results because they choose ignorance over engagement. Shame on them, and guess what, the project manager and the project team pays the price of failure.
END OF PERSONAL RANT
What happens when senior management isn't involved with projects from the beginning to the end? Things like those below, which if left unchecked will ensure you project is a failure or delivers less than desirable results.
There is no organizational commitment to the project's objectives (you have project objectives that were created by senior management, right?)
Project teams are left with the job of trying to change the organization's bad habits and culture (not possible without senior management buy-in and support)
Divisions and departments fight the change the project is creating
Mid-level managers, supervisors, and line workers refuse to get involved and often work to sabotage the project
To summarize, large projects require senior management commitment, involvement, and follow through. Without senior management involvement your large project is almost certain to fail. Project managers and project teams can't be successful, nor will project management deliver results in organizations where fear is pervasive. Senior management can do more to create fear and remove fear than any project manager ever could.
Finally, I will say what most of us know, many senior managers and executives are wimps, however, this doesn't need to be the case when it comes to large projects. They can speak out up front while the project is being initiated and demand to see a business case. They can and must be involved in setting the project's measurable objectives. Once they have bought-in to the project they can and must insist that their direct reports support the project and keep them appraised of project progress. Finally, they can and must hold their staff accountable for project results.
When it comes to large projects senior managers and executives can be engaged, involved, and act as leaders, or they can be wimps.