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The Unresponsive Project Sponsor – Part I

I need help!

Abigail has been assigned a project to open a new retail store for her organization. This is the fifth such project she has managed. She is often selected for new store projects. The location selected is not one where the company has done business, but research shows that there is significant potential to build a strong customer base and drive revenue for the company. The project scope calls for her to do the following:

  • Determine the best of 3 locations selected for the retail store
  • Hire and oversee the general contractor to get the store built
  • Coordinate all necessary permits and licenses (working with the general contractor)
  • Select and have installed all furnishings and other necessary equipment for the store

The project sponsor, Sarah, is an SVP of Retail. Sarah is fairly new to the organization and therefore Abigail has not worked with her previously. The project was kicking off in 2 weeks and Abigail wanted to meet with Sarah beforehand to talk through the project. She also wanted Sarah to be at the kick off meeting as was common for many sponsors with which Abigail worked.

Abigail reached out to Sarah’s executive assistant, Jonathan, to arrange for an initial 1 hour meeting with Sarah and also to let him know that the team meeting was scheduled for 2 weeks and that she would like Sarah to attend. Jonathan told Abigail that Sarah’s schedule was completely booked for the next 2 months and she would be unavailable. Abigail asked Jonathan is there was any way that Sarah could fit some time in to discuss the project prior to the meeting. Jonathan told her he would check and get back to her by day’s end.

Abigail felt it was important for the sponsor to be at the initial team meeting – it helped set expectations with the team and showed sponsorship commitment. Therefore, Abigail really wished Sarah could be at the meeting, but if she could meet with her beforehand that would be fine. Maybe she could get her to come to a future team meeting.

Later that Afternoon

Jonathan phoned Abigail later in the afternoon. He was sorry to inform her that Sarah just couldn’t make the time to meet with her about the project. But, Sarah told him to let Abigail know to just read the Charter – everything she needed was there. Abigail said she had a few questions above and beyond what was in the Charter and a few things to confirm. Jonathan told her to send an email to Sarah and he will ask her to respond to any inquiries.

Abigail hung up the phone and signed. Every other sponsor she had worked within the past was always available and were thrilled to be invited to the team kick-off meeting. Abigail just felt this project was not going to go well.

The Next Day

Abigail sent an email to Sarah the next day (and cc’ed Jonathan) with her list of questions. She was looking for the following:

  • Background information about the 3 site locations (traffic, competition and other stores in the area, etc.)
  • Retail store square footage and products to be sold (there were 3 different retail store footprints and different products sold depending on location)
  • Expect timeline for a grand opening of the retail store
  • Time on Sarah’s calendar each month to report on project status (ideally in person)

Three days later Abigail still did not have a response and she was beginning to get concerned. She reached out to Jonathan who told her that Sarah has been traveling quite a bit and to just give it a couple of days.

Two more days have passed and still no response. Abigail’s team meeting was fast approaching and she wanted to have more details before the meeting. She reached out to Jonathan again. Jonathan told her that Sarah was off on an overseas trip and would likely not respond to email until she returned early the following week.

Early the next week Abigail reached out to Jonathan to try to arrange a meeting with Sarah. Jonathan told her Sarah was just too busy to meet with her but did ask Jonathan to pass on that she should just move forward with what she had for her team meeting and they will catch up at some point soon.

Abigail was frustrated. She needed Sarah’s support if this project was going to be a success and needed to think about how to approach the situation.

Part II – Reaching out to Sarah