Project sponsors typically are members of senior management who carry a respectable level of influence and authority and serve as proponents of projects. Project sponsors often are called by different names, such as product sponsor, project director, account manager or business unit manager.
Some projects do not have clearly defined project sponsors. Even more common are projects that have sponsors, but the sponsors' duties are not defined and documented. If a project has no apparent sponsor or a weak sponsor, the project will suffer a severe handicap whenever senior management support must be obtained.
As a project manager, if your project does not have a project sponsor, you can work to cultivate that role with a likely senior manager. If your project has a designated project sponsor, but the duties are vague, it is in both your and the project's best interest to define and document a proposed set of duties and negotiate them with the sponsor. Let's look at a short list of the more significant duties of a project sponsor.
Ensure the project's strategic significance. The project sponsor endorses and defends the project as a valued investment of organizational resources, an investment that serves the organization's strategic objectives.
Provide approval and funding for the project. Organizations have more opportunities than funds and people to work them. The project sponsor lobbies for the approval and subsequent funding of the project.
Promote support by key stakeholders. The project sponsor maintains a good working relationship with major stakeholders such as the project manager, client and senior project players from other internal and external organizations and companies.
Support broad authority for project manager and team. The best project sponsors do not micromanage a project. Instead, the project manager enjoys great flexibility to promote best practices in planning and managing the project and making day-to-day decisions. Decisions related to scope, schedule and costs that affect changes to external commitments must include the project sponsor.
Resolve conflicts. The project sponsor resolves conflicts that require senior management involvement: funding, priorities, external commitments, cross-organizational boundaries and clients, for instance. The project sponsor strives to buffer the project team from political issues. Timeliness to close issues is critical.
Be accessible and approachable. The project sponsor must be available to the project manager and other stake-holders on relatively short notice. The project sponsor should be viewed as a stakeholder who is always willing to listen and get involved as needed—to be used as a sounding board and to provide advice and guidance.
Support periodic reviews. The project sponsor approves the need and frequency of project reviews to appropriately assess the health of the project. Actions then are recommended to immediately address any significant problems that are identified.
Support post-project review. The project sponsor promotes the implementation of reviews upon project completion or following a major phase of a long-running project. A post-project review identifies what went right, what went wrong and where improvement can be made on future projects. The objective is to learn from project experiences so future projects can benefit.
Encourage recognition. The project sponsor, working with management and the project manager, supports the timely recognition of noteworthy individual and team achievements.
The project sponsor provides ongoing, on-call support for the project manager, who, in effect, is the project stakeholder charged with planning and executing the project plan, which leads to successful delivery of the product/service. A close, supportive relationship between the project sponsor and project manager can greatly benefit the performance of the project manager, project team and the overall success of the project.
Now go make a difference! PM
Neal Whitten, PMP, president of The Neal Whitten Croup (www.nealwhitten group.com), is a speaker, trainer, consultant, mentor, and author. His books include The EnterPrize Organization: Organizing Software Projects for Accountability and Success, published by PMI.
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PM NETWORK | DECEMBER 2002 | www.pmi.org