Does Your Project Sponsor Know What They Are Doing?

Being a project sponsor is not easy.  The role is often misunderstood, misrepresented, and misused – leading to a host of problems between the Project Manager (PM) and the Project Sponsor (PS).  

The key issue is the lack of a clear agreement between both parties up front.  Both parties make assumptions about the role of the other without confirmation or discussion and thus the trouble begins. 

Unfortunately, this relationship cannot be standardized across projects. It all depends on the environment, the people and the position of the project in the larger portfolio of work to be done.

So how do we get around and through this?

Depending on your environment, you should try to come up with a standard set of best practices for these two roles as they relate to each other.  As with most practices in project management, it should not be cast in stone, but it should provide a good framework from which to work.  Generally speaking…

  1. what is a PS responsible for in each project?
  2. what is a PM responsible for in each project?

and at a minimum, what will the line of communication look like?

With this type of framework, we have something that we can address at the start of every project.  In the past, I have written on the Project Sponsor Charter and suggested that every critical project should start with an agreement between the sponsor and project manager.

The ‘relationship management’ role is the responsibility of the project manager.  The PS is certainly not going to initiate it.  They will be the first to make a series of assumptions and let it ride.  You, the PM, need to initiate the meeting and the subsequent agreement. 

A few key points about this ‘Charter’ or agreement.

  • It should be the part of every project initiation plan.  If I am working in an organization that does not have this foundation to work from, I would make it a part of my own project management kit.  Right up front, before anything gets going, schedule an appointment with the PS.
  • You should have an agenda set for this meeting and send it to the PS beforehand.  Ideally, it contains a list of questions that you will want to ask every PS you work with.
  • You manage the meeting – from start to finish.  Take control and set your mark right up front.   This sends a clear message to the PS and establishes your level of authority and ability as a PM.  Believe me, this will be appreciated.

Most importantly, the PM needs to understand that the PS has many other responsibilities over and above helping you with your project.  As well, your project may not be too high on the PS’s list of critical issues – or it may be at the very top.   All of these issues need to be dealt with at the first meeting.

So, does your PS know what they are doing?  They should.   And if they don’t, it’s your fault.

Make this relationship a priory in your next project – establish it early and be clear from the start.


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