What Sponsorship Really Means

For a long time we’ve recognized that strong executive support is a key success factor for any project.  The project sponsor role was identified to address that need and now project managers make sure that someone’s name is always in the project sponsor space provided on all of our project documentation.

But have we really taken the time to make sure that the person we identify as the project sponsor is the right person to fill the role?  Has anyone told them they are the sponsor? Or has anybody bothered to let the project sponsor know what being a sponsor really means and what we need them to do?  If the answer to any of these questions is anything other than a loud, resounding “Yes!” then we may as well leave the space on the form blank.

Herein lays the difference between defining a project sponsor and truly having a project sponsor – the first looks good on paper, the second produces results.

So here’s my open letter to all those sponsors out there…

Dear Sponsor,

I know that you want this project to be a success and that you expect me as the project manager to dedicate myself to that goal.  I’m more than willing to do that, but here’s what I’ll need from you:

  1.  Take ownership. If you are really the sponsor you’re supposed to have a strong, vested interest in the success of the project and you need to actively advocate for it. Don’t passively wait for stakeholders to throw up barriers to the project – you need to go out and SELL. I need you to directly address objections and be involved in the sometimes touchy negotiations and horse-trading that is needed to clear the path for the project team.
  2. Be part of the project team. Actively engage in defining the objectives and desired outcomes of the project and help to continuously clarify, remind, and refocus everyone on what those are.  When there are conflicting objectives or when difficult issues arise, work with me and the team to evaluate alternatives, make tradeoffs and negotiate with difficult stakeholders to be absolutely certain that there is no question about what we are doing and why.
  3. Be available and accessible. I understand that you are busy but periodically I need your undivided attention. I need to update you on our accomplishments and challenges, let you know if we need help on issues, make you aware of risks, and bring items to you for decisions. My job is to use your time wisely and keep you informed, but lack of access to you makes that all the harder and more time consuming for both of us.
  4. Keep me informed. I realize that things will happen that I may not know about – or that you can’t tell me.  But if something comes up that’s going to impact the project, like reprioritization or a budget cut or even cancellation, the sooner I know the better. I promise I’ll do the same.

Sincerely,

The Project Manager

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