All the best planning and execution in the world is not enough to guarantee project success.  Without support from key executives, a project may not get off the ground at all.  Even if you are able to initiate a project without executive support, you may discover in the middle of the project that your organization lacks the commitment to money and resources you need to complete the project successfully.

Securing executive support prior to launching a project will improve the odds of achieving positive results from your project work.  Securing executive support for a project may be easy if the executive(s) in question are knowledgeable and understand the value of the work.  On the other hand, it might be difficult if executives lack the ability or attitude to support it effectively.  Regardless of where along this spectrum your executive support falls, there are actions a project manager can take to help executives to provide effective support of your projects:

  • Assist with comparative analysis of proposed projects to pick the best projects to execute.
  • Document requirements thoroughly and include a plan for how to meet those requirements.
  • Provide detailed work cost estimates with an explanation of how they were calculated.
  • Ensure sufficient resources are identified, available, and will be committed to the project.
  • Create detailed job/task descriptions and tie measurable performance standards to those tasks.

Executives have barriers that impede their ability to support projects as well.  From organizational process maturity and politics to limits on authority and resources, even well-meaning executives may have difficulty providing effective support.  As a project manager, you may be able to help them overcome those barriers, provided you identify the challenges and understand how they impact support for your project.

For example, an executive sponsor with limited authority or resources might be able to secure what you need if said sponsor is armed with thorough and compelling analysis for higher ups on the value of a specific project.  In this instance, you will want to emphasize the return on the investment to the organization as whole (this is where profitability benchmarks from previous projects can help, in addition to the financial results of the project). If the problem is not so much about authority or resource limitations, but more about process maturity, you could assist in improving processes by passing along your project management expertise to those who lack the knowledge.

Arming Yourself with Data

In either case, having as much accurate data as possible about your past projects will go a long way towards getting the executive support you need on your proposed projects. Your job is to prove not only the viability of launching and executing the project, but the potential value of the project as a whole.

If you’re providing a comparative analysis in order to choose which projects to pursue, then you will need data on past projects that are similar to the ones you’re proposing that show overall project profitability, cost estimates, timeline estimates, and if the past projects were over or under-budget. If you’re already tracking time on projects, this data will be much easier for you to compile.

The viability of the proposed projects also includes resource availability, so you will need to present proof as part of your analysis that you have the appropriate resources (people and equipment tend to be the biggest needs) ready, available, and committed to the projects at stake. If you utilize project management or resource management software, then you’ll be able to project your resource availability easily.

While you might get lucky with a go-it-alone approach, your chances of project success improve dramatically when you have effective executive support.  Executive support may come in different shapes and sizes.  Understanding the potential roadblocks and arming yourself with the right data and documentation will enable you to take the right actions to secure executive support for your projects – giving them a better chance for success.