Project Sponsor

Dick Billows, PMP

Dick Billows, PMP

Project sponsors play a critical role in projects and while many of these executives understand their role and play it well, there are many who do not. The project manager often has to deal with project sponsors who do not fulfill their role on the project. Because these people outrank the project manager, often by a significant margin, the project manager has to use a great deal of subtlety in steering poor performing project sponsors to fulfill their project roles.

Number one among the project sponsor’s responsibilities is defining the scope of the project. Project sponsors need to make a crystal-clear commitment of exactly what they want from the project. If they’re playing political games with the scope or don’t want to pin themselves down, the project manager and the team members are in a terrible position. The sponsors want the project team to start work without knowing what’s expected of them. There are other project sponsor obligations that project managers have to subtly guide them to fulfill. Let’s discuss them.

As a project manager, you will routinely face high-pressure situations with sponsors trying to do things that will harm the project. If you let the intimidation get to you, the project will fail. Here’s what to say, and what not to say, in each situation.

Project Sponsor Situation #1

This occurs during the initiation of the project. In that first session you need to take a very strong position that the scope of the project must be defined in measurable terms, that is with a measurable metric. Often times you have to “sell” the sponsor on the benefits of a scope that defines what he or she wants with numbers rather than vague, subjective definitions.

Project Sponsor Situation #2

Another make or break situation occurs when you discuss your authority to direct the project team. If you are borrowing team members from another department, you want to be able to give them assignments directly rather than going through their supervisor.  You also want to be able to evaluate their performance and have input into their annual performance review.

Project Sponsor Situation #3

Other critical situations are change orders affecting the project scope, duration or cost. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Every scope change affects the project’s duration and cost.  Similarly, the project sponsor can’t cut the project’s duration without affecting the scope and cost or cut the budget without affecting the scope and duration. Project sponsors don’t want to hear this so you must be able to show them options for managing changes to the scope, duration and cost.

Project Sponsor Situation #4

Finally, status reports with a bad variance are a critical situation. You must present viable solutions to fix the problems of schedule or cost overruns.

Effectively handling each of these situations is critical to your relationship with the sponsor and to the success of the project.

You learn all of those skills in our project management basics courses. Take a look at the basics course in your specialty.

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