Interview with Urs Monstein (COO, VP Bank) on Project Sponsorship

For the last decade I have dedicated myself to helping C-level executives to recover troubled technology projects. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the process, it’s that executive project support is priceless.

Engaged executive sponsors help organizations to bridge the communication gap between influencers and implementers, thereby increasing collaboration and support, boosting project success rates, and reducing collective risk.

Urs Monstein is an example of such an engaged project sponsor. I met Urs for the first time about ten years ago when he was leading the post-merger integration of ING Bank (Switzerland) into Julius Baer.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am currently COO of VP Bank, a mid-size bank in Liechtenstein. Beforehand, I was globally responsible for IT at Bank Julius Baer. Over the last two decades, I ran various strategic integration and development projects in the role of both project manager and project sponsor.

Can you tell us something about your experience as a project sponsor?

Looking back about 20 years at the role of project sponsor, I found that smaller projects (< USD 100k) were steered as part of the project portfolio without a dedicated steering committee. The average project volume was between USD 1–5M. Bigger projects beyond USD 10M could have a duration of up to three years.

What do you think is the single most effective thing a project sponsor can do to positively influence a project?

The most effective thing a project sponsor can and should do to positively influence a project is to proactively support the project manager in reaching his goals. In that sense, a project sponsor should:

> Critically assess project progress against the plan in order to detect not yet recognized risks/issues (outside-in view)

> Make decisions the project manager might not be empowered to make, or where the project manager needs support from senior management

> Motivate the entire project team by showing real interest and strong involvement from senior management

> Continuously represent the project and its progress to the executive management.

What do you think is the single most effective thing a project sponsor can do to negatively influence a project?

Insufficient empowerment of the project manager and thus acting as micromanager rather than as a trusted partner to the project.

What was your biggest success as a project sponsor, and why?

Successful delivery of a strategic business project on time and on budget despite complex circumstances (for example, implementation of new technologies, integration of a variety of business applications, and a politically cumbersome environment).

What was your biggest challenge as a project sponsor?

Replacement of a reporting system that was more complex than initially assessed, which led to significant delays and cost overrun. In the end, the system was successfully rolled out as we were able to align the external provider and the internal team towards the common goals and thus inspire them to go the needed extra mile.

What was your biggest failure as a project sponsor, and why?

Initiating the implementation of a new CRM solution despite clear indications that the application did not yet have the needed maturity. Finally, the project needed to be shut down after more than one year. My biggest failure as a project sponsor was the inability to stop the initiation at the very beginning.

How do you determine a project is really necessary and valuable?

Availability of a dedicated business sponsor who feels responsible and accountable for the success of the project delivery and, as such, who is willing to spend the needed time on the project, to actively influence scope management, and to take over investment and running costs of the project delivery in his future budget.

How do you recognize your project is in trouble?

Usually, it’s based on experience whilst continuously assessing project progress by assessing project status (this includes spending time with the project team on the ground). Clear signals might be a status that’s too positively reported, missing project risks, and demotivated project staff.

What advice would you give to a first-time project sponsor?

Carefully select your project manager (with regards to the person and relationship rather than based on his skills only).

Additionally, I would suggest the following traits:

> Close connection to the project (weekly bilateral meetings with the project manager)

> Periodic spend time with the project team on the ground and engage in conversations.

> Curiosity (asking all the questions which are not reported in the periodic status report).

What are you looking for when selecting a project manager for your project?

> Leadership skills (the capability to lead a team of cross-functional specialists)

> Good personal relationship/trust.

Overall, I select a project manager in the same way as I select senior line managers.

What are you looking for when selecting a steering committee member for your project?

> To assure all stakeholders are included

> To ensure that involved stakeholders are willing to contribute their part in the project whilst taking over personal accountability for the success of the project (in contrast to treating the STC as an “honorary club”).

What is/are your most important lesson(s) learned as a project sponsor?

> In-depth analysis as the be-all and end-all of the project

> Active scope management (with the aim not to enlarge the scope but to assure business success after rollout)

> Adaptation of project organization in the course of the project life-cycle (the initial setup will not necessarily be the right one throughout the entire project duration)

> Timely replacement of project manager and/or project specialists, if needed.

This is the first in a series of interviews with executive project sponsors. The interviews will be part of my upcoming book “The Art of Project Sponsorship.”

Originally published at https://www.henricodolfing.com.

Written by

I help C-level executives in the financial service industry with interim management and recovering troubled technology projects.

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