As a project manager it is up you to resolve any problems that confront your project and to simply make the project happen, and if you don’t, then you are an easy scapegoat to take the blame. This is an attitude and approach that exists in many organisations and it is WRONG.
What if you quit the company, got a promotion to another role or heaven forbid, got hit by a bus? The project would not simply stop dead in its tracks. It would still need to be delivered and delivered successfully.
And this is where the project sponsor comes in.
In a project sense being the sponsor means taking responsibility for the success of the project within the organisation. It means being committed to the project outcomes and to the people involved in delivering these outcomes. In fact, having a good sponsor could be the difference between a successful or a failed project.
33% of projects fail because of a lack of involvement from senior management – University of Ottawa
Clearly your sponsor needs to be involved from the start of your project, through all phases until final hand-over although they will play different roles, depending on what phase your project is in.
During the initial project creation and Initiation Phase your sponsor should:
- Champion the project, especially during the concept creation activities
- Be a spokesperson for the project throughout the company
- Ensure there is buy-in and support for the project, especially with senior management
- Provide funding
- Make sure that the project has sufficient resources
- Determine any priorities between the constraints
- Provide information that helps produce the Project Charter
- Delegate the appropriate level of authority to the project manager
The role of your sponsor during the project Planning Phase is to:
- Review the WBS, Schedule, Budget and Business Case
- Provide details on required management reports
- Supply a list of known organisational risks
- Provide expert guidance and advice
- Help determine any required trade-offs to scope, time and quality
- Approve the final Project Management Plan
- Endorse the project advancing to the next phase
During the project Execution and Control Phases your sponsor should:
- Protect the project from unnecessary changes and approve or reject those submitted
- Enforce company quality measures
- Continue to provide expert guidance and judgement
- Resolve any conflicts that are beyond the project managers control
- Works with the project manager to monitor progress
- Assist the project manager with Risk and Issue management
When closing your project, the sponsors role is to:
- Provide formal acceptance of the project deliverables
With all these various responsibilities, you need to make sure that the right person is selected as your project sponsor. Some of the key things to consider are:
- Occupation. Your sponsor should be a member of the senior management/executive team within your company.
- Experience. Your sponsor should be experienced in sponsoring similar projects in the past.
- Skills and Expertise. Your sponsor should have the skills such as decision making, problem solving, communications, time management, etc.
- Authority. Your sponsor should have sufficient financial authority to make financial decisions on behalf of the project.
Once you have a sponsor, as the project manager you need to make sure they can effectively contribute to the project’s success. This means you will need to:
Train them – Most executives take the role without any training or knowledge of their supposed responsibilities which means although it may be uncomfortable, you will need to train them – but most will appreciate your guidance. You should focus on accountability, team values and protecting the project from external and internal interference.
Actively engage with them – You need to make sure you have a highly functioning relationship with your sponsor and it is crucial that you have clear reporting protocols for both regular project updates and in the event of a project emergency. Your sponsor should be active in your Steering Committee meetings and be the voice of the any project success throughout the company.
Seek their support – Make sure that you give your sponsor a chance to add more value than just resolving problems. Ask them to give you feedback and input into how the project is progressing. It is great to have someone from the Exec level observing and providing feedback on your performance.
Keep them for the big issues – You need to remember the reasons you have a sponsor and try and balance the way you use them. Their key purpose on your project is to secure you resources (people and financial), to champion your project to upper management and to support you and the project team to succeed. Don’t overburden them with minute issues and details and risk not having their support when the bigger problems inevitably arrive.
Never forget that having the right project sponsor may be one of the most important pieces of project success. Project managers that understand the need for a project sponsor can easily improve their chances of delivering a successful project.