Executive Adoption

by john on April 5, 2003

Critical to the success of any internal IT project is Executive Sponsorship. But there is another equally important concept and that is Executive Adoption. If you have been part of any failed or successful IT project I think you’ll recognize the importance of both.

Depending on the size and scope of your project and your company an Executive Sponsor can take many shapes. It may be the VP for a department in a department level project, or it could be your COO or CEO for an organization-wide effort. The role of the sponsor is two-fold – to stand up for the project in the C** level meetings where the cost and benefit of it will invariably be discussed and to help drive the change that will effect the people within their particular group.

Especially so in today’s hostile business environment of shrinking budgets and reductions in force it is absolutely critical for the continued success of your project to have that sponsor there speaking for you when the discussion of the company’s resources are discussed.

Most projects of this level will require an employee to change the way they do business and most employees by nature do not want to change. “We’ve always done it this way”, they will say. With a strong Executive Sponsor those barriers can be broken through. Often times it might mean a willingness to let those go who do not want to change and bring in others who do. You simply can’t achieve that without a sponsor.

But sponsorship alone is not enough. You must have Executive Adoption as well.

By Executive Adoption I mean an executive who not only understands your project at a high level but also is an active user. Clearly most large scale projects have a goal of having all of the executives eventually being a user, but I’m talking about getting this to happen early in the project cycle. And the closer your executive adopter is to being a super user the better. By using the product or service your project is delivering the adopter will be in a better position to understand why you are asking for more money to implement “Feature X” – he will have already felt the pain. Having an adopter means you not only have someone speaking for you but often it means you have a demo person as well. And a darned well paid one at that. But nothing sends a clearer sign to the troops who are being asked to make change than an executive sponsor who is first in line.

The most successful projects that I have been involved with had strong Executive Sponsorship and Adoption. In fact we had such strong adoption across the top level management that you could almost say they all were sponsors. When you have a project that is adding clear value and is actively used by all levels of top management do you think there are ever any problems getting additional funding for the project when necessary? No – it’s an easy sell. Only by being an adopter can an executive (or anyone for that matter) truly understand the value of a project. The more high level adopters you can get the easier job your sponsor (and yourself) will have.

If you are in the midst of any large scale project ask yourself three questions.

“Do I have a strong, well-placed Executive Sponsor?”
“Is my sponsor a current user of my project deliverable?”
“Do I have other executive adopters?”

If you can answer yes to all three I guarantee you are running a successful project. Congratulations! If you can answer yes to the first two then you are well on your way to success – see what you can do to influence the adoption across the other executives. A yes to the first question only is typically all that is required in project management circles but I would argue you are looking for trouble if that is the case – you must find a way to get that sponsor to be an active participant. An Adopter. Finally, if your answer was no to all three questions please pack up your bags, do not pass go and do not collect $200. In other words, try something else because your project will not succeed in the long term.

Executive Adoption is key to the success of your project. Get it.


Anders Jacobsen April 7, 2003 at 8:40 am

Great summary of IT project preconditions, John. I completely agree with you that Executive Adopters (a term coined by yourself?) are key; but they are not a trivial thing for many IT projects (that tend to hide “under the hood”, like integration with legacy systems etc)…

john April 7, 2003 at 6:39 pm

Thanks Anders. I did not coin the term, although clearly it hasn’t been used much since I jumped to #1 on Google within a day of making that one mention.

The term Executive Adoptor is from a case study on Chase that was in the book Taking Care of eBusiness by Tom Siebel.

I didn’t coin it but I’ve been using it a lot. I think I’ll take it over by writing about the concept enough that I maintain my pagerank on Google. 🙂

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