Top Management Support Can Kill A Project

Top-management support is on everyone’s list of critical success factors (CSFs). In fact, it is usually at the very top of the list. Fail to get it, we are told, and the project stands little chance of succeeding.

Indeed, without top level support the project may never be approved, or if it is approved at all it may take forever for it to get through the process.  Without support, cooperation from other departments may be impossible to obtain, and commitment from team members unenthusiastic. Imagine trying to round out the project team with a representative from marketing, yet top management has offered only unenthusiastic support.

While we can all agree that top-management support is essential, it’s not really clear what we mean by “top-management support.” Does it mean that the project was presented to top management and they nodded? Does it mean that they were under pressure to approve the project from higher-ups? Or, does it mean that they enthusiastically supported the project and understood its role in meeting the organization’s business objectives?

When top level is support is strong everyone knows it. But they also know it when top level support is weak. Indeed everyone knows it. Project managers know it. Team members know it.  Those in other functional areas know it. Even end-users or customers know it.

Just because the project did receive unequivocal support may also mean nothing. In fact too much “top management support” may condemn a project to failure. Think about the Titanic, the Edsel, the Columbia Shuttle, the Denver baggage handling system.  Didn’t they get top management support?

What is apparent is that top-management support comes in a variety of shapes and sizes and that it is only a start to say the project has top-management support.

Here are some questions that need to be answered if the level of support is to be understood.

While this list includes only a few suggestions, try making up your own list. The point is to go into a project with your eyes wide open.

As we all know, praise for a job well done is seldom expressed. So here’s the tough part. If the project fails to achieve enthusiastic approval from management, there may be little hope of hearing any praise.  In fact, if there is little support then you may fall victim to the common expression, “no good deed goes unpunished.”

So, before you begin on the next project explore the support carefully. No, it’s not enough to say “the project has the support of top-management.”

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