Great Sponsor + Great PM = Great Success
Project sponsorship is an active senior management role, responsible for identifying the business need, problem or opportunity. The sponsor ensures the project remains a viable proposition and that benefits are realised, resolving any issues outside the control of the project manager.
Over the past decade or so, I have been involved in project work performing a variety of roles. I have led the enterprise PMO and played the role of an executive sponsor; yet there still exists a widespread perception that executives do not do enough to support the delivery of projects.
Part of the challenge that the project manager faces is the reality of having to serve so many different stakeholders and sometimes being pulled in very different directions. We're often taught that our "sponsor" is the person who is the champion of the effort. Indeed, they are often the one we're to seek out for support and issue resolution throughout the project. But what do you do when your sponsor is the problem?
The sponsor/PM partnership is the most important relationship determinant of a project's success potential. Both the sponsor and the PM need to be acutely aware of the relationship and recognise the necessity of working together to better secure a successful outcome and provide value back to the organisation.
There is a lot of information and advice available in print form and on the Internet about project management, but relatively little about project sponsorship. Project sponsorship requires more than simply signing the cheques and taking delivery of the successful project. You need to give your project managers the tools they require to succeed and use your influence to remove the obstacles they face. This article explores some of the do's and don'ts of successful sponsorship.
Here's the hard truth of it: many of the people sponsoring our projects are unqualified to do so, some aren't experienced enough to be effective sponsors, and even if they are, most haven't been taught how to be an effective sponsor, and what being an effective sponsor means. At their best, many sponsors can be well meaning, but also be less than helpful. At their worst, they can be downright dangerous to you and your project. So how does this happen? It happens because we have a bad habit of encouraging the accidental sponsor.
The Oxford dictionary defines a sponsor simply as someone who "makes himself or herself responsible for another." In a project sense this means taking on responsibility for the success of a project in an organisation. It means commitment to project outcomes and to the people involved in delivering these outcomes. But a project doesn't just work because you have a good project plan. It requires organisational commitment through the provision of adequate resources and executives to smooth the way when things get difficult.
When talking about the positions on a project team, the ones that come to mind first are project leader, project manager and team members. Time is spent designing the project, selecting the right team members, establishing the critical path leading to end goals and establishing a reporting and measurement system. Unfortunately, what many firms discover is that the project still seems to get off course even with all the elements so carefully aligned.
Running training events is often a dumping ground for people's frustrations. I guess we have all done it thinking this guru will help us solve all our problems. However, some of our problems are deeply ingrained and take a lot of shifting. One such problem is the role that senior managers play or should play in projects. The terminology does get in the way however, we believe that all projects need a sponsor, someone who gives executive support to the project manager and project.
"Before you start your project, find a committed project sponsor who has enough clout in your organisation. Your project sponsor will prove invaluable in helping you overcome organisational roadblocks as they arise." - Duncan Haughey