Mastering the Executive Sponsor’s Role for a Successful Microsoft Dynamics 365 Implementation
Congratulations! You’re the Executive Sponsor for your company’s Microsoft Dynamics 365 implementation. This project will be a big deal in terms of time and the number of people involved. You’ve got a lot of work ahead of you.
To be effective in this role, you first need to understand the full scope of your responsibilities. This article will provide a comprehensive list of activities you should do as the Executive Sponsor.
The Executive Sponsor’s Purpose
These kinds of projects are often described as, “Install Microsoft Dynamics 365.” That definition is too narrow for what you’re about. A sponsor’s main concern isn’t the what, but rather the why. You, or someone else, had the idea that it was time for a system upgrade because there was something you hoped the new technology would do for the company. What are those objectives? Once you’ve answered that question, you’ll have your overriding purpose: making sure the company meets those objectives.
The Sponsor Owns This Project's Business Objectives
If you focus only on installing the software, you may not meet the broader business objectives because they aren’t typically achieved until people use the software to work in new and better ways. Only when that happens will you begin moving toward your true goal.
You can think about your job as overseeing two activity streams. The first is technical implementation. The second is creating adoption, which is another way of saying changing people’s behavior. Both are critical and both involve lots of work.
While you are primarily overseeing the work of others, any hands-on activity on your part will most likely be on the people-side of the project. The technical team will tackle the installation.
The Executive Sponsor’s Responsibilities
If you’re reading this article because you’re unsure what you are supposed to do, get ready. The short answer is, “More than you thought when you agreed to take on the role.” Here’s your executive summary:
Before the project
Don’t Go It Alone
You need not be the only one tackling these sponsorship responsibilities. Engage a team of co-sponsors or change champions to help you within specific departments. Bring in change management, communication, and training specialists to help with behind-the-scenes work. Delegate well and monitor progress.
If you don’t have the folks inside the organization to assist you, Stoneridge does. Our change management team offers three change management support options:
- On demand: We support a specific need and then your team does the rest of the change management work.
- Planning and advisory: We offer guidance and problem-solving support throughout the project.
- Leadership and deployment: We lead change management for the project and take on a large part of the implementation work.
Before the Project
Get clear about the business case
A lot of people are going to ask you, “Why?” You must be ready with a good answer. You own the objectives, so make sure you know what they are and why they matter.
Build a coalition of executive-level support
Unless you own the company or are sitting in the CEO’s chair, you may need agreement from others to make significant decisions. Even if you have full authority, why would you want to without the support of the people who could sink the project before it even starts?
Establish a steering committee
This project will likely create impacts across organizational boundaries, and it helps to make sure all internal organizations have a strong voice within the project.
Build alignment on the vision and goals
Once you’ve got the necessary partners, they need to share a common understanding of what they’re working towards. Turn your objectives into a compelling story that you can all use to talk about what you want to accomplish.
Build alignment on success criteria
Vision and goals may not be concrete enough to help people recognize when they have met them. This is why it helps to get specific about the criteria you will use to judge success.
Recruit a program/project manager (PM)
Now that the senior leaders agree on what you want to do and why it matters, it’s time to find the people who will do the technical implementation. Start with the team leader. Ensure they understand the objectives and all the alignment work you just completed.
Recruit a change management lead (CM)
There’s a lot of adoption work to do. You are the face of that work, but likely don’t have time to do much of it yourself. Find someone to lead that effort. Depending on the size of the project, this person may also need to build a team.
Work with the PM and CM to build a team and establish a budget
Decide on timing, budget, and a high-level game plan to determine who is right for the team. It’s your responsibility to help obtain those resources and backfill positions so people can fulfill their project responsibilities.
Host a kick-off meeting
Once you’ve assembled your team, give them a strong start. This first meeting is yours to lead. You own the objectives and are asking this team to help you achieve them. In this meeting address:
- The business objectives, vision, goals, and success criteria. Make sure the team understands the big picture and why it matters.
- Your role and what people can expect from you.
- What you expect of the team about the process and how to work together.
Communicate vision and goals to all key stakeholders
Beyond the project team, it’s time to let those who need to know that this effort is underway. Convey:
- The project’s purpose
- Why it matters
- How it might affect them
- How they can help
Design, Development, and Testing
Meet regularly with the PM and CM
Meet with your team leaders to discuss progress, identify issues, and do collaborative problem-solving. Find a cadence that balances your interest/engagement with the team’s freedom to do their jobs.
Meet with the steering committee
Decide whether to convene the Steering Committee regularly or on an ad hoc basis to address project needs. Keep them in the loop and use them as required.
Meet with key stakeholders
People appreciate a little attention. For the people who have the most interest in your project and the most influence (i.e., the potential to wreak havoc), the effort to give them personalized updates and ask for feedback is a worthwhile use of your time.
Recognize and celebrate milestones
Software projects typically have lots of milestones. Each is an accomplishment worth celebrating. Also, people do things worth recognizing. There’s no need to wait until the end. Letting people know you appreciate their efforts along the way keeps them energized.
Monitor resource needs
Your PM should keep you up to date on resources. Does the core team have what it needs? Are other stakeholders participating at the level they were asked to do? If there are problems, you may need to intervene.
This is your project. Talk it up to everyone you meet and at every chance you get. Your advocacy should always come back to why this project matters and the value it will create. Better yet, help people understand how they will personally benefit.
Intervene when asked or proactively when you see issues
When the PM, CM, or other managers raise concerns, be there to help them. Keep in mind that sometimes people are slow to ask for help. Counter this tendency by staying tuned in so that you notice potential problems.
(The period starting when testing is complete until it’s rolled out to everyone.)
Ensure the organization is ready
There’s pressure to go live, some of it coming from you. Going live before the software and the people are ready can lead to big problems. Put on a risk management hat, assess where things stand by working with the Project Manager and Change Management Consultant, and then make the right call.
Step up communications about what people should expect
The weeks leading up to your go-live date are full of activity. Things can change quickly. This is when communication needs to become more frequent and targeted. Keeping everyone informed about the current situation and what’s coming next will require a lot more of your attention.
Ask the rest of the organization to ease up to make room for this final push
Too much happening at once can overwhelm the organization. This is a time to work with your steering committee and identify what can be slowed down or delayed, making space so everyone can focus on completing the final tasks. Consider starting this work earlier in the project to ensure there aren’t too many competing projects for people’s time.
Support user adoption
On day 1, not everyone will like the software, use it, or use it well. Hopefully, most use it reasonably well. Now the job is to make steady progress towards full utilization and proficiency. This effort requires your continued engagement to ensure the appropriate steps happen if there are gaps.
Drive towards business objectives
The software may work, but have you achieved your business objectives yet? Remember those? That’s why you launched this project in the first place. Keep people focused on them until they’ve been achieved. While the technical project team could disband, your change management folks still have work to do.
Up to now, the work has been governed using a project model. It’s time to shift ownership for system adoption to the person or team responsible for ongoing training (remedial and new people) and addressing utilization issues.
While this has been ongoing throughout the project, it’s time for one final thank you. Make it meaningful for people. They’ve done a lot. And while you’re at it, pat yourself on the back. You’ve shepherded this project to completion.