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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Sponsors as Executive Project Managers

If there is one common theme shared by virtually all 20,000 people who have participated in our project management workshops, it is their relationship, or lack of, with their project sponsor.

The role of the project sponsor is critical in ensuring the success of both IT and business projects. Our research and experience have shown that the effectiveness of the project sponsor role is the single best predictor of project success or failure.

extreme project management rule 7 - No sponsor, no start.

As a result, for you—a project manager—the relationship that you build with your sponsor is the most critical relationship in your project. Although the identification, prioritization, and approval of projects are critical roles, the responsibilities of contemporary project sponsors or steering committees go far beyond these processes.

As discussed earlier in this book, traditional project sponsors and steering committees tended to find themselves in either a passive or reactive relationship with the project and the project manager. After the approval of the project, the project sponsor and members of the steering committee were inundated with technically oriented reports and basic cost-tracking reports. Often, they were not alerted to major project problems until after they had become critical, leaving few options for the executives in helping the project.

The One Minute Sponsor

In extreme projects, every day is significant and every delay is a disaster. We have a rule for our clients called the 1 x 1 Rule. When a decision is required, the project manager must be able to get to his or her sponsor in one minute and get a decision in one minute.

We thank Star Trek for giving us the most powerful model for different types of sponsors. There are the Captain Kirk sponsors who love beaming down to the project planet and getting their hands dirty and are very reluctant to delegate (even to Spock). Then there are the Captain Picard sponsors who love to remain above the project planet and delegate it all to their team while they read Shakespeare (or another consultant report). You need a Captain Kirk sponsor.

eXtreme project sponsors and steering committees are highly proactive and involved in the management of the project as "executive" project managers. In particular, the following additional responsibilities are essential for senior management to ensure that a project achieves its outputs and outcomes:

  • Active participation in the planning of the project. Our new approach to project planning is based on highly participative and structured planning sessions. These sessions involve all key stakeholders and, at a minimum, the project sponsor and steering committee members must attend the part of the planning session where scope, objectives, stakeholders, and benefits analysis are being discussed.

  • Assistance to the project manager. In most projects, the project manager has fairly low levels of organizational delegation and power. In these cases, conflict and disputes will inevitably arise regarding stakeholder involvement, scope, objectives, resourcing, and quality expectations that are beyond the power and influence of the project manager to resolve. It is critical that the project sponsor and steering committee, having being informed of these conflicts, use their organizational power to resolve them.

  • Monitoring of key project variables. Apart from the traditional concerns of cost and schedules, the focus of project sponsors and steering committees must also be on such factors as these:

    • Has there been any scope or objectives alteration?

    • Have the benefits model or assumptions changed?

    • Are the project risks being managed?

    • Have new project risks emerged?

    • Are the stakeholder involvement and communication strategies in control?

    • Is the approved project development strategy still being deployed?

These factors and the other components of the approved business case (see later) should be reviewed regularly and on demand should any major variations occur between reporting periods.

The other critical role of an eXtreme project sponsor is the management of the whole-of-life dynamic. As we discuss later, the role of the project sponsor in the analysis and realization of project benefits is another element of eXtreme project management.

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