Mr Big Stuff, Who Do You Think You Are?

Ever worked on a project when you thought ‘I wish the sponsors were more involved?’ That would really help to clarify the vision and focus the team on what is truly valuable.

That is a noble wish, one I have echoed many times. However, experience is now telling me something a little different, that perhaps that desire is entirely dependant on the sponsor you wish to involve. Say hello to our old friend context again.

What happens if your sponsor (as they can be) is a real big hitter in the organisation? And god forbid, they are being judged on the delivery of your project by an even bigger cheese. So, your big cheese starts getting hot and heavy with the team, interrupting stand ups, looming over your shoulder and getting all judgemental.

As a Scrum Master, I’ve dealt with this a few times, so a little practical advice:

1. Cut the Shit – sponsors will want direct answers. This is the best way to deflect attentions from your team. Patience and seniority are sometimes not happy bedfellows.
2. Take the Heat – take one for the team. If the sponsor wants information and you don’t have it, volunteer to get it. Then you can pick the timing of any actions required.
3. Role Power Matters – As much as people show a significant amount of bravado, role power hugely matters. Find out from your team whom it matters most to. If there is fear (rational or irrational) from one or more team members then you know who to shield most.
4. Post Storm Repair – Sometimes there is nothing you can do. You will be railroaded. But, these sponsor interventions come in bursts in reaction to a specific issue so they are finite. You may judge this as defeatist but sometimes you need to pick your battles, so have your recovery plan (people first, then project later) ready.

Unless you want one of these in the middle of your team, you’d better act and fast.