For a successful CRM project – Customer business team needs executive support and sufficient empowerment  

When implementing you will need more than the right partner and product. You will also need the right team internally to bring success in an implementation project.

Regardless of the methodology used (although some more than others are impacted here), there will be uncertainty in every implementation project. There may be lots of uncertainty, or it may be a small amount of uncertainty within a fairly tightly defined framework or specification. Whenever there is uncertainty, there is the need for clarification and decision to enable the project to progress at pace. Decision making can only be effective with the appropriate level of executive support and empowerment within the project team.  

In this discussion, we explore the dynamics around executive support and empowerment. We share our observations on why there is often a weakness in project teams in this regard, we explore the consequences of not having appropriate support or empowerment, and finally, based on our experiences, we share the right characteristics of the project exec which are likely to deliver success.  

Various methods and governance structures exist which will help an organisation to identify which of their senior team should be responsible for the success of a project, this piece will not focus there, rather, the focus is on ensuring the right level of involvement when this decision has been made.  

By definition, the responsible exec will have appropriate seniority within the organisation, they will have the pull on their time, and a range of activities that they need to control that is expected of a senior executive. In addition to this there will be a project to oversee. This may be seen as an unwelcome burden in addition to ‘the day job’ (We hear team members of all levels talking about the demands of ‘the day job’ in project teams so often! a recipe for disaster that we will discuss elsewhere), or it may be seen as an exclusive focus where every detail will be sought, analysed and challenged. Neither of these extreme levels of executive involvement would be ideal. Senior disinterest will lead to project failure just as certainly as senior micro-management will. So, what is the right balance?

The right balance here is one which means the business will not face unpalatable surprises, whether in scope, cost nor benefit realisation. The involvement of the senior exec, or the empowerment of the team delegated by the senior exec should resolve uncertainty to maintain pace in the project. There needs to be enough visibility of the project and enough visibility of the wider business to ensure ongoing viability of the business case.

Common project execs we see and the results likely from the approach:

The ‘know all exec’.

Due to their seniority, the exec sponsor who knows how to strategically run their division, and how their divisional target helps to meet global strategic targets, will be well placed to respond to the big questions on project budget, ROI and risk mitigation, but they may be exceptionally poorly placed to make decisions on specific workflow or the day to day activities of their teams. This is entirely reasonable, and only becomes a problem if they do not know this. We have, in our careers, seen some seniors who would not dream of saying ‘I don’t know’. We have seen some who feel the need to answer a question, even if it has not been asked of them. Some who do not know how to delegate to get the most appropriate answer.  

Unfortunately, these are the project execs who find themselves having to answer to their staff as to why a new system does not work for them and having to explain to the MD why the projected benefits will not be achievable.   

The ‘don’t trouble me with this’ exec.

Again, due to their seniority, these execs see themselves as far too busy to bother to understand the project and fail to notice how their distance from the project will impact on its likely success. This is a real problem if it is not accompanied by appropriate empowerment of the project team to make decisions in place of the exec. But it is difficult for an exec to confidently delegate if the distance is such that they do not even know what it is that they have delegated.  

These are the project execs who find themselves having to explain project delays, and dissatisfaction with the end product. They have to explain why they thought it was appropriate not to understand the relevant elements of the project and to presume that everything would turn out ok.  

The ’feel empowered’ exec.

With the right motivation, these are the execs who see that their junior colleagues have the right level of detail to make decisions on the project, after all, they are the ones who will be using the new system. There is certainly a place for this empowerment. It is essential. But it cannot be the only means through which a project is run. By empowering junior colleagues too much, there is the real risk that project constraints are not fully understood. The team member who can make decisions in fine detail on a sales, or a distribution workflow or UI, may not be best placeds to understand corporate issues which have necessarily set the scope or timeline of a project. They may not know about new product innovations, competitor behaviours, nor about shareholder risk appetites. Empowerment is crucial, but without the right boundaries, this will lead to all sorts of interesting failure scenarios.

These are the execs who find themselves explaining scope-creep, delay, lack of strategic alignment, and why they were surprised by a lack of success.  

The ‘status report’ exec.  

These are the execs who trust the structures under them and respond to anything they see in status reports which is ‘red’, whether a risk or issue, timeline, cost or quality concern. With as much information as the report contains, they will act decisively. Or, maybe they will ask for more information. More information from a project team who, by definition of the ‘red’ entry are already firefighting. These execs may find their first involvement in the project is to sort out the problem that they have just been made aware of based on a periodic report, or an exception report. Exec involvement in this situation, really is the minimum that the team should expect. But what is the calibre of the exec who only gives the minimum to the project? By only getting involved when there is a problem, and by demanding additional efforts of the team when they are already firefighting, the team quickly learn that exec involvement is not welcome, and they become incentivised to hide bad news rather than reporting openly.  

These are the execs who find themselves puzzled explaining to the MD that they don’t understand where a 6-month delay has suddenly come from. After all, they look at all the reports and take mitigating action where it appears necessary! These are the execs who lose confidence in their teams and frankly do little to inspire confidence within the team. These execs do not enjoy projects and are not invited to take responsibility for a second one (not with their current employer at least!)

The ‘approachable realist’ exec.

These are the execs who have designed the right structure to ensure they know enough about the project and the wider business to ensure that the business case remains viable throughout.

Due to their senior role, project execs are well placed to understand the strategic context in which the project is operating. The approachable realist knows there is a level of detail they do not have, and they empower the right people and structure under them to make decisions on system detail. They help their junior colleagues by setting out the context in which they can freely work, and they outline escalation routes where they are needed in order that ongoing guidance can be accessed where needed.

These are the execs who recognise they have not got time to be hands on, but at the same time recognise that the project is part of the day job. It is not an optional extra. Consequently, they request and read regular status reports. They take the time to congratulate the team when milestones are hit. They bring their expertise to question when there are no ‘red’ risks and they ask insightful questions about risk perception among the team. They make time to constructively address ‘red’ items when they are raised. They thank the team for their transparency, and encourage open and relevant reporting.  

These are the execs who recognise when staff are empowered they may make decisions that lead to problems, and they may make decisions that the exec themselves would have made differently. These execs will understand that is the nature of delegation and empowerment. They will step in to shield their project teams and support them through adversity if decisions were made within the right context.  

These are the execs who recognise that the usual corporate structure may isolate them from the view and opinions junior colleagues, and recognise this isolation as being a potential threat to the project. They take active steps to ensure they are around, approachable and connected with all views coming from the project, not just the view of the PM. Aside from the sense of involvement and general positivity engendered by an approachable exec, these channels are a crucial barometer on the project.  

These are the execs who are genuinely excited by a project and they promote that sense of anticipation and opportunity within the business. They know they need the business and the project to be kept in harmony with each other. They promote opportunities for project successes to be shared with the business, and they share challenges openly taking time to explain causes and potential impacts. The approachable realist knows that successful technical delivery is not enough to deliver benefits, and they ensure there is no gap between the business and the project. This is not to say that the business requirement will not change during the project, or that the project will not deviate from original business expectation. The approachable realist knows both are possible and constructs a structure to ensure transparency within each of these domains.

These are the execs who know that their domain experience is not sufficient to give assurance on an IT project. The skills that made them Sales, Finance, or Operations Director will not necessarily help them to nail a tech project. They know this, and they reach out to experts to help them in forming their views. They take feedback from the business, the project team, both internal staff and external suppliers, senior colleagues and junior. They pay close attention to the status reports and to what they hear around the water cooler. They know where their blindspots are and they take steps to source assurance to enable the visibility they need.  

Having the right level of support and empowerment from the senior project exec is essential to the success of any project. Even with this in place there will still be challenges. To expect anything else in a complex implementation would be naïve. However, the right level of empowerment and support will enable the project team confidently to try to sort the problem. It will enable them to escalate and expect resolution where necessary, and it will give the best opportunity for success.  

These are the execs who find themselves explaining to the MD how effective the project team have been in the delivery. They explain how flexible the business has been in adapting to the emerging solution. They find themselves able to respond confidently when questioned about challenges and whether the right people are involved in the project. These are the execs who are invited to start assembling the team to replicate the success on phase 2, or who are invited to assist failing projects in other divisions.  


Major implementations are few and far between for many businesses, and reputations of business leaders are made or damaged on the back of them.

If you are about to start, or if you are already underway with an implementation, and you require additional assurance or support, give us a call to discuss how we can help you cut through the noise and understand the true picture.


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