Recently I’ve been speaking to the authors of a new book, Strategies for Project Sponsorship. Peter Taylor told me about how to build professional relationships with project sponsors, even when you don’t like them. Vicki James shared her tips for getting the best out of your project sponsor. Today, Ron Rosenhead describes the challenges for project sponsors today and tells some stories about sponsorship.
Here’s what he had to say.
Ron, if I was a project sponsor today, what would be the top challenge I’d be facing?
The top challenge is ensuring that the project sponsor knows and plays out their role effectively. We provide a “primer” for the sponsor in the book that aligns with our Sponsorship Checklist of the 17 project sponsor responsibilities.
When we were writing the book we identified nine classifications of challenging project sponsor situations and we provide tips on how to deal with them. One of the nine is the absent sponsor. This is where there no assigned sponsor or there is an assigned sponsor but you have never met them or been able to meet them or they frequently miss meetings.
Our research shows that too many sponsors are sponsors in name only and do not play a significant enough role in projects they sponsor.
That does sound like a challenge for project managers, and for sponsorship in general. Can you share a story about a successful or awful sponsor?
OK! The following stories were submitted by project managers who responded to our Call for Stories.
Early in my career, I worked on a project where the sponsor (to whom I directly reported) was an intense micromanager. The sponsor’s personal preferences regarding due dates should have been the first warning sign that he was going to get more and more involved.
As the project progressed, I began spending more of my time pulling together materials to keep him informed. It got to the point where he was reviewing work products line by line and I was having hour-long meetings with him morning and afternoon to review project status. Further complicating things was the fact that the sponsor reversed (and re-reversed) decisions that had been made weeks ago because he changed his mind.
It wasn’t appropriate for the sponsor to be involved in any of these decisions or work products, but I didn’t feel that I had the authority to contradict my direct supervisor. As things unravelled, I sought advice from very senior project managers and tried to explain to the sponsor the risk his actions were placing on the project. Next, a contracted senior project manager told the sponsor to back off—to no avail. The sponsor wanted to do it his way. Team morale plummeted and deadlines slipped.
I learned the valuable lesson that I have to intervene with a micromanaging sponsor much earlier and stick to the roles and responsibilities in the Project Charter from day one.
Our client was a state government entity on a fixed-price contract project. The lead sponsor on the project was a director-level person from the state team. He was very knowledgeable about the policies and procedures and had a great practical vision for what could be implemented. He used to spend hours and hours with project managers, business analysts, and even developers at times to explain the nuances of design and policy. He was one of the key success factors on the project.
I was fortunate enough to work with such a sponsor; he really set the bar against which I evaluate other sponsors.
That shows the range of sponsors that project managers have to work with, and two very different outcomes. Thanks, Ron!
Ron Rosenhead is known for his highly practical approach to life alongside project management. Over 25 years as a trainer and consultant with the last 17 years specializing in helping organisations to increase the probability of project success. He has personally trained and coached over 10,000 people in the project management world; some project managers, others project sponsors. He has worked across sectors: financial services, public sector, engineering, pharmaceuticals, universities, car retailing, IT etc. He is a professional speaker and author of Deliver that Project (an e-book), is a regular blogger and tweeter. Ron regularly writes practical project management training materials which are in use all over the world.