8 Tips to Become an Influential Project Champion

  • By: admin
  • October 4, 2018

Implementing a new meeting management solution is a major initiative for any public or private sector entity. No matter how easy your vendor can make the implementation process, the purchasing, deployment and usage of such a system touches many people throughout multiple levels of the organization.

Done properly, the project should bring benefits to all of those stakeholders. But before you can start reaping those benefits, you need to get approval for your project — and even after it’s approved, ensure that it moves smoothly through implementation and subsequent phases.

It’s almost inevitable that you will encounter obstacles and resistance along the way, from the usual fear of change (even when change is for the better, many people are averse to it) to resource limitations. It’s important that you get buy-in for your project from everyone it affects in a timely manner — the longer you wait, the higher the chance that those obstacles will be compounded, and the more opportunity those resistant to the project have to build their case against it. Human nature also says that people are more likely to go on the defensive if they feel they weren’t brought into the process early enough.

To get that buy-in from stakeholders, your project needs a champion — someone to lead the charge, extolling the benefits of the project while helping overcome objections and ultimately, ensuring that everyone stays engaged and on track. From getting a project approved to getting a stalled project unstuck (or even better, ensuring it doesn’t stall at all), that person becomes the ‘face’ of the project to ensure its success.

Even if the project was your idea, you may not need to be your own champion. If there’s someone on your team who believes as whole-heartedly in the project as you do and has relevant expertise for getting stakeholder buy-in — such as change management experience or exceptional persuasive communication skills — they may be best-suited for the task. But in a small department or organization, you may not have that luxury, and you’ll need to wear the ‘champion’ hat yourself.

In this first of a two-part post, we’ll look at 8 easy steps on how to better prepare yourself — or your chosen team member — to be an influential champion for your project, and how to build an advocacy group to support your efforts. In the next post, we’ll delve further into identifying and understanding the stakeholders you need to convince, and how to gain their buy-in.

  1. Understand your own motivations. Before you can convince anyone else to buy into the project, you need to truly understand and be able to articulate your own reasons for wanting the project to happen. What are the pain points that the project is designed to overcome? Workload too heavy? Wasted effort and rework? Errors? And how will resolving those pain points affect yourself, your department and the organization as a whole?
  2. Understand who shares your pain. The more people and groups who benefit from a project, the more likely it will be approved. Start by identifying colleagues who share your pain within your own department or business area, and then identify other areas of the organization that struggle with the same issues — learning why and how they affect those areas and what language they use to describe their pain.
  3. Identify who is OK with the status quo. Not everyone will be enthused about your project, but they may not be adversarial towards it either. By understanding their point of view and their motivations, you may uncover their own areas of pain and be able to align the changes you want in a way that will help them too. Even if you can’t directly benefit them, you can show them how your changes would positively affect their peers day-to-day, they may become allies.
  4. Identify your options. Ultimately, your goal for your project is to solve a problem. You likely already have an idea of how you want to solve it, but be sure you have explored other ways in which the challenge can be overcome — by changing business processes, technology, or even organizational structure. A project like implementing a meeting management solution may touch multiple of these areas, and the approach will influence who you need as advocates and stakeholders (for example, any project that has an impact on organizational structure will require HR involvement).
  5. Built a coalition and leadership team. Multiple voices speak louder than one. Build an advocacy group to amplify your championing of the project. Key members of the group will be those with shared pain, but you can also include those comfortable with the status quo — or even those originally opposed — if you can get them to accept that change is coming. Within the group, build a leadership team of decision-makers — the empowered management members of the coalition who are going to be key voices in getting it approved. If possible, also include a trusted advisor who has been through a similar project proposal initiative before to help guide you.
  6. Identify internal processes. While some projects may start with a grassroots movement, many organizations have formal processes for proposing such initiatives. Determine what’s required to sell the changes internally, as well as the process and timing for getting budget approved for the project. Last but not least, map out the process for implementing the new solution and changes. Even once the project is approved, failing to understand the steps you need to get it actually done may result in it never coming to fruition.
  7. Build your narrative. All of the information you’ve collected is practically useless if you can’t articulate it clearly and concisely. Most of your stakeholders will be too busy to wade through excessive detail to understand your point; communicating your message effectively in language they can relate to is essential. Define and refine your talking points, and for those stakeholders who do want delve further, curate supporting content that you can share with them.
  8. Plan how you’ll sell the project. Now that you have all of this information, how will you sell it internally? As always, failing to plan equals planning to fail, so map out your strategy of how you will propose and promote the project — who you will try to get on board first, how you will present the information, and so forth.

In Summary, Knowledge is Power

Different people different devicesBecoming an effective champion starts with knowing everything you can about not only your specific project — in this case, implementing and adopting a meeting management solution — but also your own organization and its internal processes. Securing the project’s approval will require you to build a business case that includes all the information stakeholders need to make an informed decision — from benefits and costs to resource impact and risks, and how they fit into the organization’s overall strategy and goals.

You’ll need to understand the perspectives of everyone who might be affected by the deployment of the system — even outside of your department — and be prepared to address any objections they raise. And you’ll need to know everything you can about your organization’s procurement procedures — for example, whether the purchase will need council approval, and whether acquiring the solution needs to go through an RFP process. Being prepared is essential, as anything the champion can’t quickly address will not only delay your project, but may make it seem less favorable in the eyes of the stakeholders.

While this may sound daunting, particularly if you’ve never done it before, the above 8 steps will help put you on the right path. And if you need additional support, reach out to your vendor who should be more than happy to help.

Stay Tuned: How to Gain Buy-In

In part two of this post, we’ll focus on how to get buy-in for your peers and higher-ups, digging deeper into identifying key stakeholders and how to make a compelling case to them. Don’t wait to start collecting the information we’ve discussed above, however — you want to be ready for any opportunity to champion your project, and the easiest time to overcome any objections is before they’ve even been raised.