What is it with sponsorship? If I had a nickel for every story I heard in the classroom about poor or completely non-existent (!) sponsorship, I’d be writing this blog from somewhere more exotic than my cube. Sponsors who aren’t available for meetings. Sponsors who don’t have time to read reports. Sponsors the project manager never sees. Ever. Who is driving the project train here?
If an organization really wants their projects to succeed, and if you’re not convinced of that you’re really in trouble, then why is good sponsorship so elusive? As a project manager, is there anything you can do to improve the chances of a real partnership with a sponsor? That partnership is, after all, one of the top indicators of project success.
In this blog I’d like to suggest that we define what we should reasonably expect from a sponsor. In my next post, I will look at who is the “right” person to sponsor a project. Then I’ll suggest some things that PMs can do to improve their chances of sponsorship success.
So what should a PM expect from a sponsor? Actually, let me rephrase that: What should a PM reasonably expect from a sponsor given the project and the organization? The key word here is reasonable. If regular attendance at team meetings isn’t feasible, for example, then let’s not set anyone up for failure. PMs need to think about their Sponsorship Short List. What are the absolute must haves from this sponsor for this project? Your short list may differ depending not only on the organization, but also the sponsor and the project.
Some Sponsorship Short List options could include:
1. Articulate business and project vision
2. “Prepare” and distributes the Project Charter
3. Obtain funding
4. Define project benefits
5. Facilitate definition of requirements and acceptance criteria
6. Assist in acquiring resources
7. Approve deliverables
8. Make scope decisions
9. Resolve cross-functional and external conflicts
10. Champion the project
11. Provide guidance and direction as needed
Clearly, unless your sponsor is experienced and familiar with best practices, it’s probably not going to serve you well to present an 11-item list and announce that you need all of these things from them. Not only will they insist that they don’t have time (which is probably true), but it may be intimidating. If they’ve never done these things, how are they to know how to do them? No one wants to look incompetent, especially if you’re supposed to be the owner of the project.
So it’s up to you, project manager, to think about it and help them do their job. Create your Sponsorship Short List: Pick three and define what, specifically, they mean.
If you determine that what you need most is a project champion, for example, what does that mean? What do they actually have to do? Make a presentation at a meeting? Include project update on senior management meeting agendas? Come in and cheerlead for the team once in awhile? Write it down so you understand it. Use small, simple words so you know you understand. (No leveraging synergies!) Then, and only then, present it to them…and set them up for success. When they look good, chances are you will, too.
So if you are feeling like an unsponsored PM, give some thought as to what you’d really like from a sponsor and come up with your Sponsorship Short List. Remember: Sponsors are sometime lousy at sponsoring because they don’t know what’s expected of them. Help them understand, and make it palatable.
It’s probably a learning opportunity for both of you. If you aren’t used to sponsorship, then you will have to explore how to use them in whatever capacity you have suggested, as well. Win-win. It’s a beautiful thing.
How do you get the best out of your sponsors? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Next time, Are You My Sponsor? Who in the organization is the best candidate for project sponsor.