By Alfonso Bucero, MSc, CPS, PMP, PMI-RMP, PfMP, PMI Fellow, Partner & Director, BUCERO PM Consulting
The success or failure of any project often hinges on how well the project sponsor—the person who funds the project and ensures that desired benefits are achieved—relates to the project, the project manager, and other stakeholders. However, executives who are assigned as project sponsors often have little if any experience understanding their roles and responsibilities. Problems in communication and execution are inevitable if senior managers and project managers do not understand the mechanics of their relationship. The project’s sponsor and manager must learn to negotiate effectively with each other to achieve their commitments.
The project sponsor is important because they perform so many different roles during the project life cycle: seller, coach and mentor, filter, business judge, motivator, negotiator, protector, and upper. A key obligation of the project sponsor is to create the right environment for project success. The sponsor needs to spend time explaining the importance of the project and how every team member will be part of project and organizational success.
Complex projects need sponsors that act as leaders rather than managers. Leaders establish directions for the future, communicate through vision, and forge aligned high-performance teams.
We found different answers to the question: why choose to sponsor a project? Project professional’s reasons can be classified in four distinct categories: business, political, personal and stakeholder reasons. Achieving excellence in sponsorship means that senior managers get to maintain a hands-off approach but are available if problems arise. The criteria for selecting a project sponsor depends on the project culture of the organization, we recommend looking for the following qualities in potential sponsors:
Always Remember- Not every executive makes a good sponsor. A project sponsor needs specific skills and attitudes such as passion, the ability to unite a team, and a broad knowledge of all of the projects areas.
A major problem with project sponsors is to keep them committed to the project. We often find that the sponsor of a delivery organisation is very involved initially, but withdraws after the sale. Don’t let that happen.
The activities to perform, as a project sponsor, vary during a project life cycle. Project sponsors are more helpful when they provide support but do not interfere. During the initiation and planning phases, the sponsor should play an active role in helping establish project objectives. The sponsor also guides the project manager to make decisions during the organization and staffing phases. A sponsor should often deal with organisational politics and can help navigate around the political factors that influence project execution.
The ideal situation is getting a project sponsor who is committed, knowledgeable, accountable, and serious about the project. Their values should be transparent and aligned with the organization’s strategy. It is far better to start out with the right sponsor than having to correct a bad sponsorship situation down the road.
One method for building project manager/sponsor relations is to run monthly project reviews led by the sponsor. These meetings add value to the project manager, to the project sponsor, and to the organization. They allow the project manager to review the project status and pending tasks and at the same time, they allow the project sponsor to know more about the project.
Often, the reason for failed projects is poor sponsorship. The main trait that clearly distinguishes sponsors is their power and authority to encourage change. Unlike other leaders, sponsors hold the purse strings and possess legitimacy and authority to do whatever is necessary to enable the achievement of transformation objectives. Leaders become better prepared as sponsors of major projects by taking inventory of their talents and skills and putting appropriate action plans in place.
A major objective for sponsorship is to encourage teamwork, and every member should also think and act in accordance with what would be best for project and organisational success. Collaborative behaviours make for a productive and effective project.
Culture may be described as the way we do things in organisations, including “war stories,” symbols, rituals, shared values, power, structure, traditions and norms, and styles. Being conscious of the culture in an organization is a step toward making necessary changes. Corporate culture may be classified by type: an organization can have a power, bureaucratic, task-oriented, or person-oriented culture.
Everyone has roles to perform in a change management process. Clients request projects, and projects generate changes in organisations. There are four critical roles in organisations that run projects: advocates want change but do not have the organisational power to sponsor it themselves, sponsors have the authority to commit resources, agents carry out the change, and targets receive or adjust to the change.
The sponsor always has specific responsibilities for project funding. Strengths and weaknesses here correlate directly with project success and failure. Financial responsibilities characterize client sponsors. The financial reasons for the project and the return on investment that the customer organization expects to achieve are important for the sponsor to consider.
Before implementing a project, it is crucial to assess the risks. Running a risk assessment survey to raise the awareness of the organization’s current positioning can be very beneficial and provides a high level analysis of possible risk areas for the project. Risk is assessed on the basis of eight critical factors for any change: motivation, commitment, shared vision, culture, alignment, communication, planning, and skills. Our suggestion is using this model with all project stakeholders, possibly with different layers in the organization and with various groups. In that way, you gather contrasted opinions to study.
Feedback is vital. Elements to be scored are: Client project management, Quality and skill set of client team, Availability of needed resources, Clear decision making-process and responsibilities, Collaboration with provider, Working conditions for provider team, Client sponsorship for project, Climate of innovation.
Some managers have not lived on the customer site and never managed a customer project and so may not understand the importance of project planning. Higher-level managers often believe that project managers are like magicians, solving every issue with a wand. Executives need to know what project management means and that well-managed projects have an impact on a business.
Organising sessions for executives to help them to get the training they need is a good starting point. Begin with short sessions (two or three hours long), and promote project management awareness. Teach executives that successful sponsorship starts at the beginning and continues till project is done. Try to promote communication between project managers and executives and in time, executives will learn more about daily project activities and ultimately appreciate the work that is done by sponsors.
A sponsor initiates, funds, and supports the project from inception to completion and Proactive sponsorship should be the goal. Managers acting as project sponsors need to spend time with every team member so they can deal with all aspects of the project. Success starts with a strong commitment to improve. Leaders become better prepared as sponsors of major projects by taking inventory of their talents, skills, and behaviours and putting appropriate action plans in place. Project managers take the initiative to develop skills and proactively manage their sponsors.by