So, where’s your project sponsor and how good a job do they do?

I spoke recently at a meeting in Manchester. There were two other speakers at this event and one of them told the following story:

A well known organisation wanted to be world class in their projects and programme management. They looked at the overall strategy and there were 6 key organisational projects. The problem from the speaker’s perspective was that the organisation could not find 6 people to act as project sponsors…but yet they wanted to be world class….

So, how does your organisation go about selecting and developing its sponsors? My guess is that selection is by default! Development of sponsors; maybe attend the odd half day of training.

Now this may seem a bit (or a lot) cynical but it mirrors what we are finding in organisations. Some projects lack a clear sponsor and the issue for the project manager is that they often lack the seniority or political clout to find out who fulfils this position. No active sponsor = big project risk. No active sponsor = poor project governance.

Then of course there is the sponsor who is known but is there in name only. They do not play any of the role they should do in helping to ensure delivery of the project.

So, what can be done? There are a number of options:

1. do nothing; surely not an option as without sponsor support the life of the project manager becomes much more difficult and the chances of project success are reduced & it is a risk to the project

2. have a company wide competence approach to sponsorship. What do I mean by this? Identify the key roles you want the sponsor to play e.g. brief the project manager; develop a specific project monitoring and control process, coaching of the project manager etc. Train senior managers against the competency framework making it a compulsory for them. Include this development activity in their performance reviews

3. visit and coach the sponsor – one of our clients decided that the only option that would work for them was to visit senior managers individually. They recognised the time investment required and after around 9 months the investment started to pay off. There were really positive signs of engagement by sponsors and they stated to play their role more positively

4. the strategic approach – have a senior manager act as a sponsor for the introduction and management of project management for the business. This person appoints each sponsor and ensures they receive the right training. Of course, you need a senior person to take this role on board

5. get project sponsors to introduce project management courses! This shows to those on courses in project management that sponsorship is alive & well & senior managers are committed. Build this into the performance reviews in 2 above

So the next time you are given a project as a project manager, do think through who the sponsor is and how they play their role. Use one or more of the tactics above, or maybe you have more ideas?

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3 Responses to So, where’s your project sponsor and how good a job do they do?

  1. David Wright says:

    A project without a sponsor? Walk away, run… Companies with good project governance insist that a project be sponsored by the person/unit who wants something that will benefit them and others when it is done. I remember past years and employers where projects just sort of emerged from somewhere or someone, and rambled on with no direction into confusion and in-fighting…but its been awhile, so I can’t imagine have to deal with that again.

  2. Pingback: Surrogate project sponsor puts projects back on course | Project Management Training with Ron Rosenhead

  3. Mike Watson says:

    I’ve been running project management training for 20 years, and NEVER run a course for sponsors. It is dangerous to assume that the sponsor knows what is going to happen. If the sponsor doesn’t understand his/her role then it is up to the project manager to educate/explain/guide the sponsor through the processes. You get the sponsor you deserve…

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