OUTSTANDING SPONSORS (AND HOW TO BECOME ONE)
A Sponsor is the manager responsible for launching an initiative. He may or may not be the original requestor but he is responsible for making it happen.
When I train employees in Project Management, we often discuss the spectrum of quality in Sponsors. There are the Sponsors who are naturals – they seem to know what a team needs intuitively and are proactive about offering appropriate types of support. At the other end of the spectrum are managers who, for a variety of reasons, will never be good Project Sponsors. Most managers fall in the middle – willing, but unsure how to best support their initiatives. If you are in this group – this article is for you.
New initiatives or projects are effective when both the Project Manager and the Sponsor understand their roles and perform them. The Project Manager may either be someone with the formal title (of Project Manager) or a line employee who has been asked to take on a special project. In either case, the Project Manager is responsible for managing the project in such a way as to achieve the Sponsor’s vision. The vision may include such dimensions as: completed project, measurable results, completing milestones within specified timelines, and staying within budget.
The responsibilities of the Sponsor:
cannot be delegated. This means that no matter how good your project manager is – he cannot deliver the results desired without your active support.
Let’s look at each of the 4 tasks in detail:
1. Project Clarity
In the ideal world, it is the Project Manager’s responsibility to extract the key information from you. In reality, for the human reasons listed above, Project Managers may not do so. In these cases, Outstanding Sponsors take it upon themselves to drive early communications and clarity.
Outstanding Sponsors often require use of a brief Project Charter which clarifies: critical dates, team lead and members, problem initiative will resolve, scope, deliverables, benefits, measures of success, areas of impact, resource requirements, assumptions and constraints. More complex projects may require a full Memorandum of Understanding which goes into significantly more depth than a simple Charter. Both charters and MOUs ensure that you and your Project Manager have a shared vision at the onset and provide a starting point for future discussions about changes in scope or objectives.
Although documentation is useful, the real achievement is insurance that you and your Project Manager will have thought through the key issues together. Often managers find that being asked to communicate their assumptions or define success measures brings them to a point of clarity about their requirements much earlier than they would have otherwise achieved it. Early clarity enables Project Managers to move much more quickly and accurately towards their deliverables.
In addition to the collaboration on formal documents, there may be informal information you want to share without putting it into writing. Examples of this include:
2. Lending Power When Appropriate
Understanding the nature of your power enables you to offer yourself as a resource to your Project Manager when they recognize the following issues:
The sooner they recognize these 5 issues and include you, the faster the project will progress. Since the Project Manager cannot resolve these issues at his level of influence, delays in bringing these needs to your attention are likely to delay the initiative. Thus, discussing these 5 areas of leverage at the onset of the project can build an alliance between you and your Project Manager that will enable you to resolve these issues quickly when they emerge.
3. Oversee Team Progress
The order is important, because if time runs out, you will have handled the most time critical, action oriented areas.
When you hold your regular update meetings – ask your Project Managers to prepare a status report and email it to you 1-2 days before the meeting. The status report should include:
Receiving this data before the meeting will enable you to hold more productive meetings since you will have had time to grasp the basics and can move on to clarifying questions and collaborating on solutions. Reviewing this information, at least every 2 weeks, provides you with the critical information you need to stay on top of team progress. In case a meeting has to be cancelled, this written progress report will provide you with a summarized perspective on progress and issues.
Outstanding Sponsors also stay alert to indications (from the team or the organization) when the goal, approach or the timeline needs to change. Since projects, by their nature, take companies into new territory – information received throughout the process may indicate a change of plans is required. Outstanding Sponsors monitor project progress with an eye to whether macro level changes are appropriate.
In contrast, highly visible projects can be critical to one’s career success. Projects offer opportunities for management to see their employees’ capabilities in new ways – this seeing is beneficial for both the employees and for management. Treating all teams you sponsor as if they are visible and significant has a direct impact on employee commitment; when team members feel seen and appreciated they give significantly more to the initiative.
Clearly, waiting to appreciate team members until project completion will not drive individual contribution. Thus, letting team members know that you are aware and appreciative of their contributions periodically throughout the project is the best way to drive commitment.
Sponsors impact project success by what they say, do and reinforce. They also impact success by what they don’t say, don’t do and don’t reinforce.
Outstanding Sponsors stay attuned to what they can do to enhance the success of their initiatives. It isn’t about heavy lifting; it is about understanding the highest leverage points they can use to achieve success.
In conclusion, these actions enable outstanding project Sponsors to achieve their status and their results:
If you are already doing all six of these regularly, congratulations! You are an Outstanding Sponsor.
In all probability, you are not doing all 6 but you are already doing some of these things. The question you face, therefore, is one of refinement: what do you want to do more of, less of or do differently? Whichever you choose, adding them to your approach will increase your (and your teams’) levels of success and impact.
©2005-2007 Nancy Dill Consulting