$$ - Executive buy in - Meet your new best friend

About to go shopping for a new information system? Health care agencies, particularly large hospitals, already have a myriad of information systems, yet there is still the need for more to support extra functionality, data collection, or research projects. Sometimes it’s possible to expand an existing system to cover the need, but if it’s a shiny, brand new package of software you want, the future is fraught with danger. Driving you down the path to success in this case, is an essential person, known as the Project Sponsor.

So what is a Project Sponsor? This is the person who will support your implementation from start to end and sees bringing the project to a successful conclusion as a personal responsibility.

It’s absolutely imperative that your Project Sponsor is at Executive or Director level. Why? Because no one else will have the clout to push through the hard decisions. Forget the old “change is as good as a holiday” mantra - humans are substantially resistant to change. When people are at work, change is bad, very bad. Depending on the size and reach of your proposed system, there will be other departments, staff, managers and yes, other executives that will need to be involved. That makes for a lot of people that will be experiencing some sort of change to their environment. It’s great when everything’s going smoothly, but it’s not going to be the case all the time. Inevitably, there will come a point when you need support from the top end of town — your Project Sponsor.

Get on the same page

Always keep in mind that IT projects are far more prone to failure than success (do any Internet search to confirm this).

Let’s take a minute here to consider what success means for an information system. Is “success” meeting the objectives that have been carefully set out in the project planning phase? Is it coming in on budget and on time? Does the system actually work the way the vendor led you to believe it would? These are the types of questions considered when quantitative research is conducted and normally concludes with a much larger rate of failure than success.

However, most analysts agree the determination of success in this arena is in the hands of your system users. These are the people at the coalface who have to use the new system, day in, day out. If your user group finds the system too hard to learn, difficult to use, unreliable in any way or generally makes their working lives harder rather than easier, your carefully planned and executed project will be perceived as a failure.

Your sponsor is there to support the project team, assist the Project Manager with presentations to the executive, give input on documents such as the request for proposal, business case, requirements, scope and project plan. Having this type of support is vital to getting your project off the ground and keeping the momentum going.

Ensure that your sponsor is aware of the contribution that he or she will need to make and the importance it will have to keeping the project from the deep recesses of the pit of IT failures. Keep the lines of communication wide open to ensure that your sponsor is up-to-date at all times. If a problem occurs, you will want your sponsor to hear it from you first, not via the grapevine. Find out what is the preferred way for you to communicate, for example, email is always a good way to send updates and keep a written record at the same time, but if your sponsor doesn’t read email very often, a hard-copy or handwritten note in addition to the email, may be the fastest way to transfer information.

Commitment is king

I once worked on a project for an enterprise-wide data analysis system. There was a large team involved with the evaluation and selection of this critical information system. The Project Sponsor was the initiator of the project and keen to see a successful implementation. Funny thing was, he was only present at the very first team meeting. From that time on, every decision made by the evaluation team was made without executive input, including software demonstrations and the final vendor selection. It’s fortunate that there was such a high level of expertise available within that team and a good decision was made without too much difficulty. If a good decision had not been made, do you think that executive-level support would have been forthcoming? It’s doubtful. Ensure that your Project Sponsor is at every team meeting, check their diary before scheduling a date and change it to suit, if you have to.

It’s vital for your sponsor to know their worth as an objective overseer. There are times when a project can hit a point where it should be put on hold until issues are resolved, or even shelved altogether. Maybe the strategic direction of the organisation has changed and the project is no longer relevant. Perhaps the vendor has become insolvent. The product you are installing may be vastly different to the one you observed at a software demonstration. At these and other times, your sponsor is the only one who can give a truly objective opinion. Let’s face it, the project team are hardly likely to render themselves unemployed. By making the sensible and difficult decisions, your sponsor may save the organisation a financial and operational disaster. If that time comes, your Project Sponsor will be worth their weight in gold.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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