The Project Notebook

Project Sponsorship

Over on LinkedIn, one of the most popular discussions I’ve seen in some time is still in progress. It was posted 8 months ago and has over 1,000 responses (and is still going strong). It starts with a list similar to one I saw for the first time 7-8 years ago at a PMI ISSIG meeting. The author asks that responders identify the top cause of project failure from the following candidate list:

#1. Lacking Sponsor’s Involvement/Ownership
#2. Halo Effect (Wrong Man for the Job)
#3. Poor HR Management
#4. Poor/Inadequate Project Communications
#5. Ignoring Project Stakeholders
#6. Absence of Risk Management
#7. Scope Creep/Unrealistic Expectations
#8. Lack of Monitoring of Plan
#9. Absence of a Project Management Methodology
#10. Simple BAD LUCK 🙂

Now at the ISSIG session, over 300 participants generated a similar list, with the #1 cause of project failure being poor project sponsorship. For me, the number 1 cause (project sponsorship) is a root cause of all the other problems, with the possible exception of #10 (bad luck). Most project sponsors are usually senior executives, and the ones that should be managing and influencing the company culture such that the other items on the list are addressed. Many of them throw up roadblocks and hurdles that prevent even the most empowered and accountable employees from getting things done.

Let’s look at a couple of examples. If there is not an adequate project methodology, the senior executive team is the group that can most quickly and effectively allocate the resources to develop one. If there is poor HR management, then the senior executive for HR is the most likely candidate to get this fixed. Grass roots efforts and empowered employees can only get so far without the support of the senior executive team. When the going gets tough, this is usually the first group to exhibit what the Oz Principle refers to as “below the line” (victim) behavior.

Good project sponsors take on some of the following tasks and roles:

– Communicate the business need for the project
– Advocates the project across the business and promotes it to senior executives
– Ensures the project is justified and there is a realistic business case
– Works with the project manager to ensure the critical success factors are met
– Remains aware of key issues and gets involved when the project manager cannot resolve them
– Ensures the desired business benefit is an outcome.

My commitment to my project team, as an executive, is that if you help me by making me aware of the roadblocks and hurdles you face, I will do my best to remove them for you.

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© 2010-2012 Ray W. Frohnhoefer, MBA, PMP, CCP