You are perfectly aligned to get the results you are getting today. This means that the results of your activities is directly contributed by the actions (or lack of action) taken by you and your team.
When you don’t get the results you want, then you have the opportunity to adjust your conduct, team, or approach to change the outcome. You have the opportunity to learn and benefit from from your actions. Some call this “iterative innovation”.
As time progresses, you become well versed in adjustment through learning. The result hopefully means you get closer to what you desire, and you are becoming a well experienced Professional through this journey.
A lessor known, but rather critical lesson many Project Managers learn while practicing this “iterative innovation” is the necessity of having a critical project role covered. It is a role that forms part of any successful project delivery. Without it, disaster is imminent and unavoidable.
This is the role the Project Sponsor plays in guaranteeing the success of your engagement.
In this Blog entry, I will elaborate briefly on the significance of the Project Sponsor, the characteristics of a good Project Sponsor, considerations when looking for a Sponsor, and lastly, some rules for managing your Sponsor relationship for your project.
Dearly Beloved Sponsor
Why is a project Sponsor so important for your project?
In short, a Project Sponsor contains three critical characteristics. He provides the necessary perspective around these characteristics. The characteristics forms part of, and sets the foundation for a project.
- Vision: What is the purpose of what we are endeavoring to do? Why do we do it? The Sponsor has a strong vision of the strategic direction of the project and knows how the project fits into the overall strategy execution of the organization. The sponsor can also guide the project to adjust when the political or business imperatives for the organization changes.
- Commitment: What is the value of what we aim to achieve? What is in it for the organization? The sponsor holds the key to engage through the Project Charter. It is the sponsor that approves the Charter.
- Accountability: The sponsor is accountable and responsible for achieving the desired objectives in line with the envisioned organizational goals and commitments. The Sponsor also holds the project and Project Manager accountable for successful execution.
- Empowerment: The Sponsor is empowered to execute and constitutes and anoints ability to execute. The Sponsor empowers the Project Manager and team to get the work done. He provides guidance and definition where required. Most importantly, the Sponsor holds access to resource allocation and funding for project outcomes.
Sponsors support lower levels in the organization by cascading information and decisions that support the higher level strategy. In principle, the Sponsor provides the compass for the triple constraint of scope, budget and timeline. The main reason for this ability is the Sponsor’s linkage with the business objectives of the project.
There are different types of Sponsors. A Sponsor can come as an individual Sponsor to a project, or as a committee in the form of a Steering Committee. Sponsorship can also take the form of a process (Portfolio Process) or an organization (Project Management Office or PMO).
It is important to note that although there are different types of Sponsors, that it is imperative to have one Sponsor.
Multiple Sponsors per project has added complications that can impact a project negatively. For example: It could lead to lack of timely decision making. It can lead to delays in consensus. Multiple agendas could lead to objective and scope creep. There could be conflicts in priorities and difference in opinion of what the end results should look like. These are just some of the problems. More can arise.
Manage Your Sponsor
The following has been adapted from the useful article published by Rob Thomsett.
Rob highlights the fact that the relationship you as Project Manager build or have with your Sponsor is one of the most critical factors to your guaranteeing your project’s success.
He has distilled and highlighted a number of rules that should help you with this very important endeavor of managing your Sponsor.
- Rule 1: The Bag of Money and the Baseball Bat: Know who is paying for the project, and who has the spending authority. Secondly know who has the authority to make lasting decisions for the Project outcomes. Know that the organization structure may not be the best indication of this authority.
- Rule 2: The Passive Conduit: The Sponsor owns the objectives and decisions for the project. As Project or Program Manager your role is to establish the team, manage the process and deliver the goods.
- Rule 3: You Get the Sponsor Your Deserve: Sponsors are people too, and will react differently to the way you engage with them. Some may require a detailed hands-on approach, and others more strategic. Your ability to manage in line with these expectations has a material impact in the response you will get from your Sponsor.
- Rule 4: In the Absence of Information: Sponsors will still make decisions even if they don’t have all the facts. Know that Sponsors don’t have a lot of time. Informal communication wins over formal communications. Sponsor needs to know that the project is fine or not, and what you expect him or her to do.
- Rule 5: Educate and Inform: Take the time to educate a Sponsor on matters outside their realm of understanding. He may not have the project management expertise and understanding. That is why you are hired to do the job. One the other hand, your Sponsor may possess information outside the project, but material to your project’s success. Take the time to listen and consult him.
- Rule 6: The Level of Help You Get: Don’t delay delivering bad news. Sometimes you may need to go around the system to get your Sponsor’s attention.
- Rule 7: Show them the Money: Good Sponsors usually don’t get into the detail. Keep things simple and to the point. Choose the points they value and deliver your messages accordingly.
- Rule 8: Have An “Escape” Plan: Publish your risk management strategy and be sure to get your Sponsor’s agreement on decisions made to manage risk. Know your risks, triggers and mitigations, and ensure your Sponsor is in the loop on these.
- Rule 9: No Sponsor, No Start! Your ability to get effective sponsorship diminishes every day you go without it. Don’t start a project without a Sponsor. It is not worth the pain that follows.
Projects are “carriers” for organizational change. New systems are created. New structures implemented. New behaviors are required. New relationships are built, New capabilities are generated.
The Sponsor’s role in this is to define, authorize, communicate, validate and persevere. The Sponsor is there to actively support the desired changes until the end. He is there to assist and solve implementation problems. If you are deserted by your Sponsor you will find yourself in a lonely and unbearable situation.
Therefore, even thought PMBOK does not address the role of the Sponsor in detail, know this: Without an effective Sponsor, your project is probably dead. You just have to find it out. Call it another “iterative innovation” - a lesson learned.
As always, your comments are most welcome.
Hendrik van Wyk