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July 15, 2016 / Vicki James

Warning Signs Your Sponsor Doesn’t Care About the Project—and How to Change That

By Peter Taylor
cover

Critical to any projects success is having a good project manager we all know but after that then it is pretty important to have a good project sponsor, in fact it can be argued that the project sponsor is the more critical role; but, like the saying goes, ‘you can pick your friends but you can’t pick your relatives’ and the same is true of project sponsors.

There are many ‘types’ of project sponsor and some are really good at what they do but most can, at best, be described as the ‘accidental project sponsor’ – never having been trained, supported, or advised as to what is expected of them.

In ‘Strategies for Project Sponsorship’ the authors offer advice on many types of sponsor with suggestions for ways to work with them, or compensate for their ‘skills’ or ‘interest’ gaps. They also speak of the concept of a ‘balanced sponsor’ – being involved in the project, being objective about the project, being supportive of the project, and being reactive to project needs.

Continue to full article…

April 16, 2016 / Vicki James

Should the project sponsor be able to delegate?

By Ron Rosenhead

This was a question that set me thinking. However, let me give you some background. I was with a client and I met two senior managers who set the context for some upcoming sponsor workshops.

I then met around 40 people – some team members, a mix of project managers and project sponsors to identify:

  • perceptions project managers and staff have of project sponsors
  • what project sponsorship is like at the moment – current practice(s)
  • what people would like to see in a project sponsor workshop

The meetings threw up many issues and challenges alongside different ideas; feedback kept rolling well into the afternoon.

Several themes stood out however one more than others; the above question. It was explained to me several times that a sponsor was appointed however this person was a figurehead. They were only appointed to give the project some clout, some credibility. But, they delegate responsibility for sponsorship to others having the name in title only.

 

Can the project sponsor delegate?

Should a sponsor be able to delegate?

 

So back to the question; should a sponsor be able to delegate? Of course, this depends on what you think a sponsor should do.

Read more…

August 24, 2015 / Vicki James

Executive Sponsorship: Come On PMs, Do Your Job

Guest Blog Post by Todd C. Williams of eCameron, Inc.Image of Todd Williams

We can probably all agree that the biggest problem with executive project sponsors is them. Plain and simple… just them. The person chosen, or more appropriately “assigned,” makes all the difference in whether they actually help the project. How can this be? This makes it sound like flipping a coin would have better odds of getting a good executive support. The answer is based in the fact that it solely relies on the person.

Over the last year, we, here at eCameron have had an overabundance of requests about sponsors and how might improve project success. As a result we conducted a survey on sponsorship and found some surprising results. One of them was the simple fact that no one really knows what a sponsor is supposed to do. In fact, it is so bad that even the name of the role causes confusion. Unlike project managers, who have a clear definition of their role provided by standards organizations, the sponsorship role does not even come with a standard name. Some companies use executive sponsor, project sponsor, and champion as separate roles, other equate all three terms, some say champion needs to be a trait of the sponsor. With such ambiguity in the name and definition, no wonder sponsors have difficulty meeting expectations. The odds of the project manager’s needs and the sponsor’s self-styled definition lining up are nearly impossible. Now add the few dozen other project players to the mix and there is no chance anyone can succeed. This was so bad that when we published our white paper on the subject (Challenges in Project Sponsorship) some executive refused to read it until we republished it as Challenges in Executive Sponsorship.

Subsequent to publishing our finding we took up the task of resolving the problem. The first action was to poll hundreds of people on what the role of the project sponsor needs to be. The logic was that if enough people responded, we could develop a good picture of the consensus and we could hone it from there. The results of one of these polls, a webinar (see figure 1), much like the original survey, gave us more to investigate.

First, the role’s name should probably be Executive Project Sponsor or just Executive Sponsor. The problem with the former is that it implies there must be a non-executive sponsor while the problem with the latter is too many people say “Sponsor of what?” We are going to anchor on the shorter form and rely on the fact that the context will fill in the meaning.

The second issue was that project managers really like to assign the sponsor many of the tasks that really belong to the PM. Come on project managers, do you really think the sponsor is going to write the project charter? But the confusion does not stop here as the PMs tried to push other responsibilities onto the sponsor (such as: stakeholder identification (do not advise), define project requirements, acquire resources, to name a few). Both PRINCE2 and PMI clearly call these out and the PM’s job. Yes, the sponsor has to provide input, but they are executives, they are never supposed to generate these things.

From our study, we feel that there are really on three responsibilities of the Sponsor:

  1. Create and Maintain a Project Vision Aligned with Corporate Goals. This is the primary job—keeping the project lean and focused on the corporate need.
  2. Organizational Change Management (OCM). Ensuring that the overall OCM process is in place. (We also feel the Sponsor is accountable if the project’s product is not adopted.)
  3. Fiduciary Responsibility. This does not mean finding money, this means that minding the overall financial needs of the company and how the project fits into that is the job of the sponsor.

In summary, project sponsorship will never get better until there is a common definition. Although other issues will remain, such as sponsor training, they all rely on that most basic of elements—the definition. As with a project manager, whose definition is close to universally accepted, the definition should be industry agnostic. In reality, though, the best we can expect in the short-term is for each company to adopt the a definition that reflects the executive nature of the job. With that, and a simple job description, projects would run much better.

The white paper is available as a professional courtesy though on our website. Its successor Solutions in Executive Sponsorship, which provides additional materials on how to solve many of the challenges, will be available in the coming months. Let us know if you would like to be contacted when it is published.


Peter, Ron, and Vicki wish to give our heartfelt thank you to Todd for providing this guest post, but also for his great work in researching and writing on Project Sponsorship. We feel that Challenges in Executive Sponsorship is a great complement to Strategies for Project Sponsorship in the ‘Campaign for Real Project Sponsors.’

Find Todd on social media at:

July 20, 2015 / rrosenhead

Who is driving project management in your business?

By Ron Rosenhead (originally published on http://www.ronrosenhead.co.uk/)

During a discussion with a client it suddenly hit me. Here we were talking about improving project management in the company but what was staring us in the face was the need to have a driver (a project sponsor); the vehicle had no one steering it!

The sponsor should be a senior manager. But, they were too busy; they failed to engage with the new project management processes. They wanted and expected delivery of the agreed agenda but took little part in ensuring projects were well sponsored – in some cases there was a complete absence of sponsorship leaving project managers floundering. In addition:

  • project monitoring was not seen as essential to project success
  • project boards got bogged down with low level detail
  • expected delivery dates were far too optimistic with resources available

Do not get the impression that the company was not delivering against projects. It was. However, it could have delivered a lot quicker and easier if senior managers only played their part.

Senior managers failed their driving test!

December 16, 2014 / Vicki James

PMI Identifies Sponsor Engagement as Top Driver for Project Success

PMI Pulse coverThe Project Management Institute (PMI®) published the Pulse of the Profession ® In-Depth Report: Executive Sponsor Engagement –Top Driver of Project and Program Success in October 2014. The report agrees with our views on the importance of the Project Sponsor for successful projects but goes a bit deeper into looking at systemic organizational drivers that impede effective sponsorship. The top three cited factors are:

  • Culture of the organization, overextending the project sponsor
  • Communication
  • Development of executive sponsors

We address communication and development of the executive sponsor in Strategies for Project Sponsorship. The report makes an excellent point in the organization’s role ensuring that sponsors are not overextended and the impacts of overextension (not available to remove barriers, schedule delays, delays in decision-making).

All in all, this publication helps to make the case for why executive sponsorship is critical for project success and provides some high-level strategies for improving the current state. Couple with report with the more tactical advice found in Strategies for Project Sponsorship to optimize the role of the project sponsor within your organization. Please share the PMI report with your organization leadership to help gain support in the campaign for project sponsorship.

September 16, 2014 / Vicki James

Sherlock Holmes and the case of the failed projects

I just ran across this great blog post describing the reasons for project failure through the eyes of Sherlock Holmes by Kailash Awati. It’s a bit lengthy for a blog post, but very entertaining, insightful, and well worth a read.

  • Do you agree with Sherlocks’ findings?
  • Can Strategies for Project Sponsorship help this organization?

Foreword

Of all the problems which had been submitted to my friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, for consideration during the years of our friendship, there has been one that stands out for the sheer simplicity of its resolution.  I have (until now) been loath to disclose details of the case as I felt the resolution to be so trivial as to not merit mention.

So why bring it up after all these years?

Truth be told, I am increasingly of the mind that Holmes’ diagnosis in the Case of the Failed Projects (as I have chosen to call this narrative), though absolutely correct, has been widely ignored. Indeed, the writings of Lord Standish and others from the business press have convinced me that the real lesson from his diagnosis is yet to be learnt by those who really matter:  i.e. executives and managers.

Continue reading…

September 12, 2014 / Vicki James

PM Network Magazine (September 2014)

PMNetwork CoverThis month’s edition of PM Network Magazine includes a feature on Sponsorship. Check out this insightful articles with quotes from many thought leaders, including our very own Vicki James.

Click on the cover to read the online magazine or short cut to an HTML version of the article.