Project Practitioners > Think Like a Sponsor

Think Like a Sponsor

By Randy Englund

Most all actionsToolkit logo have thinking as their origin. Being more mindful of what goes on in our own minds, as well as what key stakeholders are thinking, goes a long ways towards achieving more desired results. A key is to guide this process towards greater project success:  turn positive thoughts into actions…and let others slip away. 

Sponsor A says he is very busy, has metrics to meet, a job description to fulfill, people to evaluate and hire, and executives requesting various other tasks and information. His long experience and technical background makes him a go-to expert. He believes he has good project managers who get jobs done without much attention from him, except when issues arise or decisions are needed. That’s how he got things done—without fanfare, fancy templates, or complicated processes. All decision-making funnels through him. There are so many meetings to attend that little time is left to check in on projects nor attend any status meetings. As new ideas come up, he quickly adds them to project requirements. Other departments seem to get in the way of progress so he is quick to issue commands. He seems indispensable for the many problems confronting the organization.

Sponsor B believes projects are the lifeblood and vitality for the organization. She places high priority on sharing visions of desired outcomes, establishing priorities, and identifying constraints. Most decisions are delegated to project managers and teams, and those decisions that get escalated to her are decided quickly. When problems arise, she listens carefully to others who are consulted for their suggestions, realizing, however, that some issues are so massive or far reaching that hasty resolution takes back seat to the need for innovative solutions. Cooperation across the organization and geographies is necessary to fulfill demands of competitive global markets. A group of peers discuss and select strategic objectives, in line with organizational strategy. She established a simple project portfolio management system that she and colleagues regularly review to prioritize, select, and track projects. The strategy, portfolio, risks, and progress are regularly shared across the organization, guided by a project office. Her focus is on creating environments for successful projects.

Which sponsor do you work for, or wish you worked for? Perhaps these two sponsors represent the extremes of a continuum, but they both exist in various forms.

One step in becoming a [more] complete project manager is to assess your sponsor. You may or may not have choice in the matter of who the sponsor is, but you have choices for how you work with that person. Project sponsors are crucial for project success, for their job, at a high level, is to define the project, identify constraints, fund the project with adequate resources, make timely decisions, resolve conflicts, support the project team, and ensure desired benefits are realized. You may be privileged to have such a sponsor who embraces these practices…or not. Knowing how competent the sponsor is helps to determine what actions are needed at your level.

So the advice is:  think like a sponsor. Practice mind reading. Does your sponsor think like Sponsor A or B?  How would you like that person to think?

These basic questions do not automatically make the sponsor into somebody different, but they do impact you. You now have the ammunition to plan your project and make your day. Is it full speed ahead with Sponsor B? Or proceed with caution with Sponsor A? Set objectives. Be willing to engage in dialogue with the sponsor about roles and responsibilities. Establish preferred ways to communicate and make commitments. Help the sponsor help you. And don’t forget to help the sponsor be a more effective leader.Take the initiative to educate and train the sponsor. You are not alone in the need to do this, because we see a world-wide deficit in the pursuit of excellence in project sponsorship.

SWBadge_JoinMe_landscapeFor further assistance, check available resources from Complete a ten question Sponsor Evaluation Survey and share it with the sponsor. Participate on “Integrating People, Organizational, and Technical Skills: The Complete Project Manager” from PMI SeminarsWorld where Alfonso Bucero and I will be sharing insights.

Best wishes on all your projects,

Randall L. Englund
Englund Project Management Consultancy

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