Hot Potato – You’re It!

Do you remember the game of hot potato when you were a kid? It’s somewhat like musical chairs. You assemble yourselves in a circle and pass around an object (usually a ball) while the music plays. The goals is not to be the one left holding the object when the music stops so everyone quickly passes it so they aren’t caught holding it, hence the name, hot potato. This game was fun as kids, but it’s not so fun when it plays out during a project. Let me explain further.

“This game was fun as kids, but it’s not so fun when it plays out during a project.”

Have you ever found yourself on a project with a sponsor that just doesn’t want to be there? They were passed the hot potato, and guess what, they got stuck with the project. They are by happenstance, the “stuckee” project sponsor. They were the one holding the hot potato—your project.

While this scenario may prove challenging for you as the project manager, this does not mean your project is doomed to fail. I have one main solution to winning over a “stuckee” sponsor – education. When my sponsor understands the importance of the project and the role they are to play, I am more likely to get them on board.

Below are a few steps I take to transition my “stuckee” sponsor to staunch supporter of my project:

Empathize. Let’s face it – we’ve all been in situations where the ball was dropped on us and we were left to carry the weight. It’s not a fun situation. I take the time to understand the sponsor’s situation. Perhaps, they are already juggling multiple projects and this new project being “hot potato-ed” on them may be creating a sense of overwhelm. When developing my project plan, I demonstrate that I am sensitive to their limited availability, set realistic deliverables for them, and I respect their time.

Be clear on the roles in the project. This is where the education comes in. If I want to receive buy-in from my sponsor, I educate them around the roles and authority of everyone involved in the project. Most especially, I stress the importance of the project sponsor role. This is particularly the case when I know their support and involvement is critical to boosting the morale of the project team and vital to the success of the project.

Meet their communication needs. While I often find that email is a great way to send information fast, I have to be aware that my sponsor probably has over 100 (if not more) unread emails in their inbox. As a part of our kick-off conversation, I’m sure to ask what are their preferred communications methods and I especially ask what is the best way to communicate bad news—we’ll save that for a later blog post.

“I learn a lot about the direction I should take with my projects when I proactively seek sponsor input. ”

Ask for their input. Education is a two-way street in my book. I learn a lot about the direction I should take with my projects when I proactively seek sponsor input. Their valuable feedback will not only push the project forward but also boost morale.

No project manager wants a “stuckee” for a sponsor, but it happens. With the right education and empathizing over their situation, I’ve been able to turn a “stuckee” into my project advocate. My focus is to position the sponsor as a champion and educate them on the impact they have on the project.

Sources:

“Avoiding the Accidental Sponsor.” https://www.projectsmart.co.uk/avoiding-the-accidental-project-sponsor.php

“4 keys to getting successful project sponsorship.” https://www.wrike.com/blog/successful-project-sponsorship/

What has been your experience with a “stuckee” project sponsor. How did you handle it? Were you able to turn the tables?

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