Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Interview with Teresa Mandl (CEO, T.V.T swissconsult gmbh) on Project Sponsorship

Interview with Teresa Mandl (CEO, T.V.T swissconsult gmbh) on Project Sponsorship
For the last decade I have dedicated myself to helping C-level executives recovering troubled 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.

Teresa Mandl is an example of such an engaged project sponsor. She is an expert for bringing technology-enabled innovation to market with 15+ years of experience in serving industrial and consumer-goods companies from SMEs to big corporates.

She selects and capture the right tech opportunities and turns them into successful products or services with the corresponding business models by aligning strategic perspectives, technological opportunities and customer needs in multi-stakeholder settings.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am the founder of T.V.T swissconsult gmbh, a firm for innovation management, product and service design across industry boundaries. I am the managing director of the company.

My roots, education-wise, are in business and economics, while I grew up in a family business that comes from classic industrial design and engineering. Currently, my company grows together with my dad’s business, which is a very good experience. In addition, I teach innovations management in advanced studies at the University of Applied Sciences in Winterthur and Lucerne.

Here, I have gained a lot of insight from various industries and perspectives on what’s moving companies right now. I am involved in start-up juries such as the Female Innovation Forum as I care a lot about fostering entrepreneurship and at the same time sharing my experience as an entrepreneur with others.

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

I have been in the role of project sponsorship for more than a decade. Moreover, I have experienced many sponsorships on my client-side from an outside perspective. The size of the projects I’ve been involved in varies a lot, from two to approximately ten people.

These experiences include not just one firm, but a variety of involved companies and disciplines such as research, materials development, product design, and sourcing. The duration of the projects varies from three months to two years.

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

To me, the joint definition of goals and project success factors is key. As such, it may be that the project sponsor sets the project up with goals in mind. However, I find it critical to reframe these goals from different perspectives and in the ‘language’ of the involved parties, so to speak.

Starting and conducting a project as a joint venture and not in a hierarchical way can be achieved that way. Staying involved in the course of the project, together with an open dialogue-oriented culture, is also critical.

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

Having an “I’ve seen it all, I’ve done it all, I know everything” attitude is a killer, especially in innovation projects. Also, the notion that failure is not acceptable. Innovation projects require a lot of resilience from project members, and this is something that can be nurtured by giving project members the feeling that they control the outcome.

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

I would say my biggest successes are always projects with many critics that, in the end, turn out a success—the projects that convince the critics. One of these was starting my own company right after university in spite of the chance to enter the family business right away, or to go work for one of the Big 5 consulting firms. I had to fund the business myself, acquire clients from scratch, and grow it in a way that it is respected by, first of all, my father, and second, his staff. Now we are in an equal position where we respect each other and where one plus one is greater than two.

What was your biggest challenge as a project sponsor?

My biggest challenge so far was to deal with some offshore technology sub-suppliers in a very time-critical and prestigious project. They kept communicating that the project was going really well, but two days before the result was due for presentation at senior level, the suppliers would not deliver at all. The challenge here was not living up to expectations—both our own and those of others. First, it was hard to communicate to the client the sudden turn of the project. Second, we had to determine how to go on with the sub-supplier; they had taken advantage of our trust, but we also relied on them for other matters. In the end we were able to move critical activities to another company, so although the project took a bit longer, the outcome was positive.

The experience showed me that not everything should be done on a fully remote basis, how important regular face-to-face contact is, and that there is a need for sub-suppliers to regularly demonstrate progress in a way that is comprehensible for the sponsor. My personal learning was to add certain items to consider when judging whether to use a sub-supplier or not, and to look a bit closer and beyond merely technical criteria when selecting who to work with. It is better to do an extra loop in evaluating the team fit than be sorry afterwards. Plus, oftentimes the willingness of a team member to go the extra mile is more important than technical skills alone.

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

My biggest failure was a project where we thought we could convince a client to use top-edge technology when our client was not ready to do so, neither from a cultural perspective nor from a skills perspective. A couple of years later, the industry widely adopted the technology that we recommended early on.

However, in order to be innovative, all parties must be ready to risk something and try things out, which our client at that time wasn’t. We ended up developing a much too advanced product that our client could not justify within the company, and therefore the project was killed. Since then, we have tried to assess the risk aversion and cultural aspects much better before starting a project with clients.

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

To determine a project’s necessity, we match projects against a hierarchy of quantitative goals and qualitative aims that we have with the project. We determine whether a project stays valuable by clear project controlling.

It is more and more essential that such project controlling is done for various stakeholders. As innovation projects are less singular and more and more a matter of ecosystems or systems, different perspectives must be clarified; these could be a firm’s profit or societal impact perspective, an eco or sustainability perspective, or many others.

Here, I feel it is important to acknowledge that in the course of a project, the priorities of the goals may shift, so there is a continuous need for review in terms of necessity and value.

How do you recognize your project is in trouble?

Our innovation project controlling serves as a quantitative dashboard for projects and lets us determine whether projects are off track. Once we determine that a certain number of priority targets have not been met for a certain amount of time (this varies according to the estimated duration of a project), we see the call to action.

But an evaluation of the project never goes without applying a good amount of gut feeling at the same time, especially for qualitative factors. In order to allow that gut feeling to be communicated, we do regular project sounding meetings in a very open-minded atmosphere so the involved parties feel free to voice any concerns they might have. From time to time expert judgement, customer feedback, and stakeholder input is employed.

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

My advice would be, of course, to talk to people who have been sponsors before. Ask about the pitfalls and success factors as well.

Next, I am a visual person. I like to sketch stakeholders, timelines, critical incidents that could happen, and limitations. Sometimes such a visualization discloses a lot, and it also serves as a very good means for discussing a project with others. Also, to be convinced about a project, it is crucial to have intrinsic motivation on top of extrinsic motivators. It is so much easier to master a project with passion than out of pure obligation.

Finally, once a project is done, go back to what went right or wrong and why … and take these findings into the next project to do even better.

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

I am most of all looking for a person who shares similar values and vision, with a “can-do” attitude. At the same time, a project manager must be a logical person who can overview many different things at once and put them into an order that all project members understand.

That being said, for innovation projects, a project manager needs to understand that the nature of innovation means that many things don’t work out according to plan. So for innovation projects, project managers must be trained to think in hypotheses and experiments. Once a hypothesis is tested and its viability is determined, the project manager needs to be able to define the levers for progress.

Last but not least, a project manager in innovations needs to bring in a certain level of empathy capability. Engineers function very differently from user experience (UX) designers or product managers. An innovation project manager must be aware of that and handle any feelings for the good of the project.

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

Among other traits, steering committee members need to be people who are not afraid to ask questions and who can challenge approaches in order to prevent group-think in projects.

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

Set ambitious goals but manage expectations wisely.

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

The first interview was with Urs Monstein (COO, VP Bank).

The second interview was with Carole Ackermann (CEO, Diamond Scull).

To read more about the book just click on the image.

The Art of Project Sponsorship
Posted on Wednesday, December 04, 2019 by Henrico Dolfing