The relationship between the project sponsor and the project manager or project leader is extremely important and yet we spend so little time making sure we get it right.
We have all heard of the Project Charter. We take the necessary time up front to be sure we are all paddling in the same direction. And some of us have heard of the Team Charter. For those of us that use this important tool we always see the benefits of understanding the team before we head out into battle.
Why not? If the project leader’s relationship with the sponsor is so important, why not create a new tool called the Sponsor Charter to help the two roles really understand each other.
Before I present the outline of this new tool, I must admit that I think I know why this doesn’t exist already. The difference in positions between the (typically) executive sponsor and the project manager is often so great that this kind of care for the ‘relationship’ is unheard of. So, the key to success here is that this new tool needs to be mandated from the senior level. In fact, let’s get the sponsor’s buy-in first and then hand it to the project managers to implement.
So here is the new Sponsor Charter.
Part 1 – Know the Person – establish a common thread outside of the work at hand.
I know this is going to sound a little fluffy to some of you but this first step is really important for any new professional connection. This is where you get to know the ‘person’ across from you.
The sponsor/project leader relationship is typically a brand new connection for you both and you are going to be working together for a long time. If you take the time to find a common thread between the two of you from outside the business at hand you will find the work and the relationship more enjoyable and more rewarding – for both of you. Regardless of how senior your sponsor is, they have a life outside of work. Look around the office. Look at photos of family, vacations, notice the plaques on the wall and look at the books in shelf. Somewhere out there, there is a common thread between you. A shared love of basketball, kids the same age or a favourite author. Find it. Pull it out for a few minutes and establish a lighter side to his new relationship. It is important to make this initial ‘personal’ connection to your sponsor. It can pay off in many ways.
Part 2 – Know Your Sponsor
The next step is about getting to know the ‘sponsor’ across the table as opposed to the ‘person’. This is the intelligence that you need to make this partnership work well. I have a lot of key questions that come to mind but I want to highlight the most important one: “Have you ever been a project sponsor before?” This does not necessarily have to be a question but rather just some good old research before the first meeting. If the answer is no, you will need to approach the front end of this project a little differently than otherwise. The kiss of death for any of us is a project sponsor that hasn’t got clue as to what they are doing. If you are in this position then you need to know fast. Ideally this knowledge will lead to an enthusiasm for learning more about the role – from you of course. So be prepared.
Other questions you need answers to fairly quickly:
- If you have been a sponsor before – how did it go? What worked? What didn’t?
- If not – would they be open to suggestions, guidance or even training. (I know of a large corporation that puts all project sponsors through a ½ day training program. )
- How do they manage their work day?
- How do they like to be communicated to? (Email format, report length etc.)
- What bugs them when dealing with project people
- What do they like about project people?
- What other projects are they sponsoring that might affect their response to you and your project?
Part 3- Make sure your sponsor knows you.
As important as you knowing all about them, it is as important that they know all about you.
- Your strengths
- Your weaknesses
- How you manage your time?
- The best way to find you and/or communicate with you
And what other project(s) are you working on that might affect your response to him or her and this project?
Part 4 – Establish the Rules of Engagement
Finally, how are we going to work together? Where will you meet, for how long and what will our meetings look like? How involved will each of you get in critical areas of the project including conflict or budget issues and more? How much does he or she want to be kept in touch with the minutia of the project. What we do when (not if) certain parts of the plan fall off the rails?
The Sponsor Charter helps to establish a relationship and rules of engagement for both parties. As with the Team Charter and the Project Chapter, this is a crucial tool of today’s project leaders. Would this work in your organization?