Project Sponsor Types: Political Operator – Video

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
Dick’s Books on Amazon

There are many project sponsor types. Some are focused only on delivering business value to their organization and have excellent strategic vision. They know how to support the project manager and the team so they can be highly effective. Unfortunately, not all project sponsor types operate like this. There are a number of project sponsor types whose behavior is destructive. Project Sponsor Main Page

In this video we’ll examine an interesting project sponsor type. We’ll look at this political operator whose primary interest is in playing one upmanship with other executives and ensuring that he has someone else to blame if things go wrong. The person who usually gets the blame is the project manager. Watch the video and see a number of tactics that project sponsors who are political operators use with project managers. After each little scenario, I’ll suggest the best way to respond to this type of project sponsor to protect your project and yourself.

Project Politics: Dealing with a "Political" Sponsors

You may be saying, “I don’t have to deal with this crap.” But the strategy of putting your head in the sand and ignoring the sponsor’s games is very unlikely to succeed. Why? Because every project and project manager is dependent on the project sponsor. When you think about the amount of time you’ll spend working with the project sponsor, you’ll realize how critically important it is to handle that individual effectively.

The project sponsor and project manager spend the majority of time together during the initiation and planning phases. Then the sponsor is actively engaged in securing organizational approval for the project,  and defining the overall scope and major deliverables that they want. Sponsors are also involved in identifying the project stakeholders and assessing the overall risk of the project. Once the charter for the project is approved by the organization and the project manager begins detailed planning, the sponsor’s role changes to approving each element of the project manager’s work. After the sponsor gives approval to the project plan and the project management plan, the sponsor’s role changes again. Following that approval process, the sponsor’s role becomes one of approving changes to those plans. The sponsor also is involved in reviewing and approving all change requests which can increase the cost and duration of the project.  As well, the sponsor approves changes to the scope, the risks and the quality of the deliverables that are to be produced.

You can learn these skills for working successfully with project sponsors in our online project management basics courses. You work privately with a expert project manager. You control the schedule and pace and have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish.  Take a look at the courses in your specialty.

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Project Management Skills

Project Management Skills For a Successful Project Manager 

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
Dick’s Books on Amazon

What project management skills do consistently successful project managers have in common?  There are personality traits, interpersonal skills, the ability to communicate, and knowledge of the right techniques to use in various project situations. Let’s start by examining the project management skills commonly used to define the consistently successful project manager. We’ll also examine a few of the myths about these skills. Then we’ll go on to examine how an organization’s project management processes and the scope of their projects affect the requirements for the successful project manager.

Project Management Skills and How They Evolved

Project Management Skills: Technical expertise – Expertise is the most ancient of the project manager ingredients. In the old days, many organizations a successful project manager required only strong technical expertise. After all, without outstanding technical expertise how could a project manager command the respect of the team? How could they plan a technically strong solution or solve problems that arose? Without superior technical knowledge, how could a PM enforce high performance standards? How could they avoid having the “wool pulled over their eyes” by team members?

Project Management Skills: Ability to Work with the User/Client – As project management evolved, it became apparent that project managers also required the ability to “sell” and persuade users and clients. Then a basic communication requirement evolved into the need for project managers to “see” the project from the user’s or client’s perspective. They couldn’t just concern themselves with the technical skills. Project managers had to learn to plan projects based on the impact on the users’/clients’ business. They had to be able to drive the effort to deliver business relevant results. Presentation Skills Video

Project Management Skills: Project Management Tools & Techniques – It also became apparent there were specialized tools and techniques that a project manager needed to be successful. For tier #1 projects (small efforts within a department), this tool set consisted of a planning template and software for creating Gantt charts. For tier #2 projects (multi-department or cross-functional projects), the project management skills and tools included higher level communications skills and software tools for modeling options and tracking performance. For tier #3 projects (strategic-level projects),the project management skills and tools grew to include strategic planning skills and interpersonal skills for multiple stakeholder situations. People realized that the best project managers had a big tool kit and the knowledge to pick the right tools for each project.

Project Management Skills: Ability to Motivate Project Team Members – Along with recognition of special project management skills and tools came recognition that the “expert power” of the technical guru was not enough to build highly motivated project teams. PMs, particularly those borrowing people across functional departments, needed the ability to determine the right way to deal with each team member. They needed the interpersonal skills to develop effective project team cultures. The management skills to define the “right” assignment for each team member and the skill to build commitment to estimates and deadlines were essential. Project Manager Communication Skills

Project Management Skills: Ability to Solve Problems – Organizations have always wanted project managers who are good problem solvers, good fire fighters.  That fit nicely with the historic requirement that project managers be the technical guru and pull off heroic technical rescues. But executives learned to value PMs who could perform risk management and avoid having any fires to put out.project management skills

These skills are a basic list of the project management skills required for success. But there is no such thing as “one PM skill set fits all.” You need to think about the processes an organization needs to develop its own successful project managers.

Moving Up From Tier #1 Projects to Tier #2 and #3

It would be nice if the project management skills and techniques that make PMs successful on small projects were an automatic springboard to success on larger projects. But the reverse is often true. The techniques and styles that work well on a tier #1 project (limited scope within a functional unit) are usually a disaster when you apply them to tier #2 (cross functional) and tier #3 (strategic) projects.  Unfortunately, the ingredients for project success change as:

  • The size of the project team grows
  • The project’s scope spans functional or organizational boundaries
  • The project “reaches” for benefits that are less tactical and more strategic.

A PM’s strong technical knowledge can successfully manage small technical projects with 2-4 people.  Their technical knowledge and individual problem-solving ability lets them catch and fix all the problems. But that micromanaging style can’t expand to cover a team of 6, 12 or more people. As the scale of their project increases, PMs need to elevate their techniques. They must get rid of that delicious temptation to make all the decisions.

Running a project for the boss within a functional unit is straightforward. The whole team usually has a common boss so authority, priority and resource allocation issues are easily resolved. The boss also controls the scope whenever an issue arises. But when the team is drawn from across functional or organizational boundaries and the stakeholders multiply, superior PM techniques need to fill the gap.

The necessary project management skills also change based on the business outcome the project has to deliver. If it’s enhancing an existing functionality or process, the PM doesn’t need much “strategic vision.” But as projects aim for improvements in operational performance or strategic-level results, the PM must be able to see beyond the technology and drive the project toward those measured business outcomes.

The PM Alone Does Not Determine Project Results

Even the most superbly equipped PMs fail when the organization’s growth or density of projects increases. These factors can make the organization’s project environment a mess of over-allocated resources and priorities that change from moment to moment. When organizations increase the frequency and volume of projects without establishing organizational processes, the project failure rate climbs. And everyone usually points to the capabilities of the project managers as the source of the problem. Good PMs can cope with changing scope, priorities and resource availability. But they cannot overcome issues like the following that plague organizations:

  • Uncontrolled project initiation
  • No prioritization of projects
  • Absence of PM authority to manage borrowed team members.

First, the organization must bring order to project initiation with portfolio management processes. Projects should be treated like investments by the portfolio managers. They must evaluate their “yield” when determining priorities and allocating resources. Management can no longer pretend that 98% of the projects can be priority #1 or that projects can require 350% of the available resources.

Second, they must become a matrix organization for projects. They must give PMs some authority to directly assign work and reward outstanding performance of the people they borrow across functional lines.

Project Management Skills Summary

The ideas in this article may be useful in considering the skills project managers need to succeed with different types of projects. It also helps define a PM’s career progression. But there is a point where the organization itself must evolve to achieve consistent success. This requires implementing consistent project management processes and executive controls. For more information on these ideas, take a look at our Basic and Advanced Project Management courses. These courses are online with private, personal instruction. You’ll have as many live video conferences as you need.

We can also design a customized program for your organization and deliver it at your site or in online webinars.


Project Manager Skills


Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
Dick’s Books on Amazon

Project Manager Skills – Status Reports

Let’s look at a typical day in the life of a Superstar Project Manager and the specific project manager skills and techniques they use. The Superstar Project Manager arrives at work a few moments after dawn (being a superstar is not easy). He has already gone over the weekly status data from the project team. He’s looking at the estimates-to-complete and comparing how that total plus the actual hours worked compare to the task baseline. There are four tasks whose estimates-to-complete will take them beyond the baseline estimates. There is a  status meeting today but the Superstar Project Manager is not going to take the entire team’s time to discuss these problems. Instead, the Superstar contacts the four team members and discusses the problem causing the potential overruns. The Superstar and three of the team members design corrective action that will bring the tasks back in line with the original estimates. But it’s obvious that the initial estimate for the fourth task was flat wrong and overly optimistic. It will be 5 days late. The Superstar makes a note for the lessons learned documentation. It includes the task’s actual data and the reason why the estimate was too low. Project Management Skills Main Page

Next, the Superstar looks at the project schedule. The odds of correcting the fourth task’s 5 day  variance this week are very low. So the Superstar looks for a “downstream” solution. That is a task scheduled several weeks from now where there’s an opportunity to add resources and recover those 5 days of slippage. Then the Superstar drafts a concise change request.  He takes responsibility for the inaccurate estimate and provides the sponsor with an outline of the corrective action. The Superstar also explains that the project’s forecasted finish date will be three weeks late until they can recover the time on the downstream task.  The Superstar emails the change request to the project sponsor.

Looking at his personal calendar, the Superstar sees that he is scheduled to “take the temperature” of four stakeholders today. He needs to ensure that they don’t have additional requirements and that there are no problems coming to a boil.

Project Manager Skills – Stakeholders and Change Orders

The Superstar Project Manager wanders into the cafeteria, gets a cup of coffee and stops at four different tables to gather news from people “in the know” about high-level dealings in the organization. Unfortunately there is problem that is bubbling to the surface. A senior director who is providing three members of the project team is facing an audit by an external agency based on a whistleblowers complaint. The Superstar pulls up the project schedule on his smart phone and takes a look at the tasks being worked on by the three members provided by that senior director. He is anticipating that these team members will be pulled off for critical duties to deal with the problem. Two of the team members have no critical path assignments and both have in excess of 10 days of slack on their tasks. The Superstar Project Manager figures that allows sufficient time for them to help their department respond to the audit. Unfortunately, the third team member is working on a critical path task. That individual is a subject matter expert who will be difficult to replace. The Superstar drafts an email to the senior director. He explains that he can work around the loss of two of the director’s loaned team members. But the subject matter expert’s task is critical and losing her would affect the project completion date. The Superstar manager suggests that the workload of the subject matter expert can be reduced to 25% of the original plan if they put a new MBA the company hired on that task. They can work under the direction of the subject matter expert and reduce the expert’s time requirement. The Superstar Project Manager asks the senior director for their approval.

Project Manager Skills – Work “Out in Front”

You’ll note that everything the Superstar Project Manager has done so far involves managing in front of his project team. That is, the Superstar is not consumed with last week’s problems. Instead he is focusing on avoiding problems in the next month or two. This managing “out in front” is a key trait of Superstar Project Managers. Problems rarely catch them by surprise.  They are always one or several steps The other trait we see in Superstar Project Managers is that they take the risk of trusting their team members. Superstar project managers do not micromanage Instead, they encourage independent decision-making by their team members (to the extent the team member’s experience warrants it). This allows a Superstar to give the team members a great deal of responsibility and independence. People want to work on the Superstar Project Manager’s projects because of the trust and independence they receive. That always motivates good performers to do their best work. And the Superstar continues to be a successful project manager.

You learn all of these skills in our project management basics courses. Begin whenever you wish and work individually with your instructor at your pace and schedule.Take a look at the basics course in your specialty.

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Here are related topics:

Project Communications




Why Is a Change Control Process Needed?

Let’s talk about why you need a Change Control Process. Have you ever had one of those days, when you have reviewed the schedule and the project is running tight?  Then a manager walks into your cube and tells you to “squeeze in” a change to the scope and maintain the current completion date.  You explain that the schedule and scope have already been approved. So you will have to assess the effect of the change on the schedule and present it to the project sponsor for approval. The manager says that you have always done a great job delivering your projects on schedule. So they are confident you can make this simple change and still meet your schedule.  Change Control Main Page

No Change Control Process

Let’s consider what can happened if you don’t have a Change Control Process.  Your boss asks you to squeeze in a requirement.  On the surface, the requirement looks simple and should not take much time.  You do not want to disappoint your boss, so you agree.  You decide to have Janet work on this since she has time before her next task starts.  Janet explains that she is working on another project during her slack time between tasks on your project.  She could not possibly work on this new requirement.  Gosh, that is right. The project team is only being loaned to you. You don’t “own” all their time.

Well maybe Bob could slip this into his schedule. Bob is amenable.  He can start work on the change and try to complete it in the time that will allow you to stay on schedule.  One week later, the day before the due date, Bob comes to you and says he’s sorry but he cannot finish the task.  His manager is pulling him back because Bob has used all the hours his boss agreed to for this project.  

Now you must find someone to finish Bob’s task by tomorrow.  What are you going to do?  The schedule is slipping since Bob is not available to work on the task.  Your brain starts rushing, thinking about who could fill-in for Bob.  Then your thoughts turn to dread.  How are you going to explain the slip to the sponsor?  You accepted the change from your boss without going through the Change Control Process.  Where are you going to get the additional resource to finish Bob’s work without disrupting something else?  What following work is affected by slipping Bob’s task? 

Change Control Process

You know that any change comes with a cost or an effect on the project baseline. To support an additional requirement, a Change Control Processcompany manager or stakeholder must follow the Change Control Process or they must create another project.  Changes and additional requirements add to some aspect of a project; the time, cost, quality, resources, scope, or risks.  If the additional requirement can be handled on a non-critical path task, it may be possible to support the manager’s or stakeholder’s request. Nevertheless, you should follow your Change Control Process and ask the manager to help you complete the appropriate change request form.  You will review the change with the team to assess the effect on the current schedule and other aspects of the project.  The change request and the estimated impact will be presented to the project sponsor for their consideration.  The project sponsor will make the determination if the change is important enough to modify the current, approved project plan and baseline.

Having and following an established project plan and Change Control Process coordinates everyone’s work to achieve successful project completion.  Changes are often necessary and change requires the stakeholders, project manager and the team to follow the Change Control Process to successfully continue the project work and meet the objective.

Project Management Profession

Work Breakdown Structure
Dick Billows, PMP

Let’s talk about the project management profession. What do landing people on the moon and cleaning up your department’s supply room have in common? They are both projects. Project management about  is producing deliverables like new payroll software, a bridge over I-25,  reorganizing the file room, hiring a new marketing director, producing a new personnel manual or taking a 20 minute moonwalk. Project Management Careers Main Page

Organizations need deliverables like these that cannot be produced by an individual as part of their regular job. In fact, many deliverables require work from a number of people working as a team. Larger projects may require the efforts of people from several different departments within the organization. Coordinating all the people, assigning them tasks and integrating their results is a challenging effort, requiring different tools and techniques than those used by a department manager. Organizations discovered this fact when they encountered difficulty producing the deliverables they needed and doing it on time and within budget. Modern project management gained many of its tools from the space program, specifically from the Apollo program to land men on the moon.

Today all kinds of organizations use the tools of project management for efforts that take as little as a few days. A project manager, who may have a regular job in addition to managing projects, leads a team of people in producing those deliverables. wbsProjects are a one-time effort. They are unique, which is why there is a special way of managing them. These tools and techniques are detailed in a project management encyclopedia called the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK)® that is published by the Project Management Institute (PMI)®. It includes hundreds of tools and techniques that project managers and organizations have developed from years of experience. Project managers don’t use all of them on every project. Instead, they learn what each of the tools and techniques does and how to select the right ones for each project.

Let’s say you are managing a very small project. You will use simple techniques to define the scope which is the project’s objective or goal. You must get this information from the project sponsor. They are the manager or executive who wants the project to be done. The scope of a project should be defined as a deliverable, that is a statement of what the project will produce. The scope statement should also include a metric, a measurement that tells everyone how success will be measured.

The next step in the project management process is to gather requirements. That means you identify all the things that have to be done to produce the scope of the project. Then you would write the charter which is a summary of the project’s scope and requirements. You should also identify the risks the project faces, the resources that will be required to deliver the scope, and how changes can be made to the scope and requirements.

After the project charter is approved by the sponsor, you work with the project team, assigning them tasks, estimating the work and duration for those tasks and then developing the project schedule and budget. When the project sponsor approves the schedule and budget, you and team begin to execute the plan. The team members have their task assignments and report their progress to you on a regular basis, preferably each week. From that data, you prepare status reports and deliver them to the project sponsor. You also deal with changes that people request to the project plan and schedule. Your role as the project manager is to analyze each change and make a recommendation to the sponsor about whether or not the change should be implemented.

Finally, when the last of the project deliverables have been produced, you close the project and archive the data. Having archives of past projects provides valuable information that makes managing future projects easier.

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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Emergency Projects

Dick Billows, PMP

Emergency projects challenge every PM’s professional discipline. Everyone else is frantic and if you don’t start responding franticly, they’ll think you don’t care. These hysteria enablers won’t be still until they have a to do list headed, “Start Work on These NOW!”

Give them the todo list and then use the resulting silence and calm to identify the decision makers who will judge the success of the emergency response. Then you can start the planing with a quantified deliverable which defines the scope. 

What if people/property are in danger!

If the emergency is in the “Act of God” category (fire, flood, earthquake, tsunami, meteor strike), there will be law, public  safety and political officials all over the place.  They each will have their own goals and turf wars about saving people and property. You won’t begin work until all the people and property are secure.  But in the meantime, you can plan so once the people and property are secure you can start work with a developed and detailed plan for whatever type of emergency you face.

Marketing/Operational Emergency 

Another type of emergency is affects the organization’s:

  • market positions
  • product competitive positions
  • systems integrity
  • loss of prized human resources 

There are many examples of these emergencies. In one of them a competitor might exclusively acquire a new technology that will allow them to profitably sell your #3 product for 35% less than you do.  Resulting in a potential drop in your revenues of 23%. 

Recovery Project Scope

The initial thinking about the scope of the recovery project is often focused on “getting back to where we were.” In other words, the recovery project should aim to make us just like we were before the emergency.  But a better way to think through the planning is to recognize that we may


Often the best thing to do is take 5 minutes to assemble a todo ir only It doesn’t matter if you are the most experienced PM out there or if you just started your career in this field. There will be times when things don’t go your way and  you have a crisis project. As a matter of fact, if things wouldn’t go wrong from time to time, we would not have an opportunity to learn from our mistakes. However, it is also important to remember that no matter what the situation, a good PM always turns to problem analysis and planning first, that’s good crisis management. Project Planning Main Page

Towards the end of last year, I was reminded of the importance of planning during times of crisis. We had just completed a smaller migration project. This project was a rather routine exercise, as we had done similar projects multiple times before. The objective of the project was to move a number of trading transactions from one book to another in our main trading platform. We had a standard plan for this kind of project, everyone had signed-off on the plan, we had a number of test rounds, and finally, we did the migration in our production system. And then came the crisis. During our initial analysis and throughout the implementation phase, we had overlooked a small, but rather important parameter, and as a result we had produced a little mess in our main general ledger. Needless to say that most of our users had a tendency to panic, and the first thought was to move into action immediately, and to just adjust the ledger manually. This would have taken a whole day, and it would have bound numerous resources.

So how do you convince a crowd not to just jump into action, but to first perform an analysCrisis Planningis and a planning session? You remind them about the consequences if the quick fix doesn’t work. The reason we had been in this situation was that we overlooked something before; hence, I reminded them that we don’t want to do the same mistake twice. Obviously, not everyone agreed, but most users understood the importance of analyzing the error and planning the response. So we did our analysis and created a simple “project plan”. This was not an endless document, on the contrary, it was an email, but a structured one. The email had the following sections:

  • Objective including a “business case”, which was the result of the error analysis
  • List of Stakeholders
  • Risks & Constraints
  • Procurement (we concluded that we can fix the problem ourselves)
  • A brief WBS
  • Communications Plan

During this “crisis” planning phase we discovered a very simple method of fixing the error, so the fix was truly “quick” and required a lot less time and resources than the original quick fix. Once the fix was implemented, I produced a lessons learned document and adjusted our standard plan for procedures like this. By following the standard project management during a crisis situation, we had forced ourselves to think first and agree on the way forward. In our case, the analysis part revealed a better solution, but even if we would have had to manually correct the error, we would have brought everyone back into the boat.

So next time something doesn’t work out as planned, remember that no matter what, analysis and planning are still the better response to crisis than a quick fix.