Home > Articles > Software Development & Management

Project Management Screw-up #5: We Didn't Have the Right Sponsorship

For any project, it's crucial to get an appropriate level of project sponsorship. This chapter will help you understand why you need to get the right sponsorship, and how you can ensure that this is done properly for your project.
This chapter is from the book

Some years back I was appointed the lead program manager on an initiative which had as its objective to consolidate a number of disparate order management systems into a single system which supported all of the company's order management needs. There were about five program managers working with me who each dragged in their respective customers to participate in the project. The project was sponsored by the IT organization with no sponsorship from the business owner. The project lumbered along for about two months with the customers continually questioning why they were working on a project that wasn't on their manager's radar. The business owner finally had enough and called IT management and the lead program manager (me!) into a meeting. The meeting started off with the manager saying to IT, "Who told you to go do this project?" Now, I'm no rocket scientist, but it was pretty clear at that point that this was not to be one of my shining project management moments. While the meeting was very uncomfortable, I learned an extremely important lesson: absolutely, without a doubt, secure sponsorship on a project at the beginning, or suffer the consequences.

For any project, it's crucial to get an appropriate level of project sponsorship. The ideal project sponsor for your project would possess the following characteristics:

  • He/she directly experiences the pain of the status quo and would directly benefit as a result of doing the project

  • He/she actively helped craft the project mission statement

  • He/she has the decision making authority to secure or re-allocate resources to/from other projects as necessary to ensure that your project can be completed successfully

  • He/she is willing to go to bat for your project with peer managers if you need help in getting something from another organization

  • He/she is willing to meet with you on a regular basis to ensure that you're getting what you need to succeed

  • He/she is willing to make difficult decisions that may be unpopular but are in the best interests of the business

  • He/she has some "skin in the game" to ensure the project's success

Now, I recognize that as a project manager you only have so much control over your project sponsor. Nonetheless, it's important to diligently try to manage your project sponsor to ensure that you're getting what you need from him/her.

Depending on the scope of your project, it may be beneficial to have a steering committee in place in addition to the project sponsor. Your steering committee is typically comprised of key managers of your stakeholder organizations. The primary functions of a steering committee involve

  • Being a decision-making body on key issues that cannot be resolved by the project team

  • Eliminating any project barriers that the project team is running up against

  • Being a supporter of any resultant change that the project will bring about to their respective organizations

  • Providing counsel and guidance to the project team on key aspects of the design and implementation of the product

  • Assisting the project manager in securing required resources for the project

  • Providing recommendations to the project sponsor on major issues which are beyond the authority of the steering committee

You need to decide whether a steering committee is beneficial to the project. Some criteria that I have used on projects are as follows:

  • There are multiple stakeholders that are directly affected by the outcome of the project

  • There are internal or external subject matter experts that can provide functional, technical, or execution guidance to the project team

  • The project sponsor has limited time to spend on the project and delegates some of the project decision-making responsibility to the steering committee

I've successfully completed projects with and without a steering committee depending on the criteria mentioned, but every successful project always had an engaged project sponsor.


The project sponsor is either too high or too low in the organization

Just because you have someone who is willing to sponsor your project doesn't mean that they are the right sponsor for the project. Optimally, your project sponsor should have decision-making authority over the in-scope project areas while at the same time being close enough to the work that they understand the implications of the issues that are raised. If your sponsor is too low-level, they're unlikely to be able to make decisions that will stick and will have to be getting authorization from their management before committing to decisions. If your sponsor is too high-level, you're likely to get decisions made but you're probably not making best use of management because others at lower levels could be making the decisions you need made.

The project sponsor is being inundated with issues that could be resolved by a steering committee

In deciding whether or not you need a steering committee, consider what you're going to need from your project sponsor and whether or not decisions can be made by others at lower management levels. If you are continually bringing issues to your project sponsor that can be addressed by other managers, you run the risk of exasperating your sponsor and being labeled as crying wolf. This will put you in a very difficult situation for when you really need help because your credibility with your project sponsor may be eroded.

You make the project sponsor work too hard to try to understand your project

In the environments that I have worked, I never gave a project sponsor anything other than presentation-type slides when it came to project reviews and requests for help. Typically, your time with the project sponsor is limited and he or she has to understand where things are and what you need from him or her in an efficient manner. Be very conscious of what you share with the sponsor, how much detail you give him/her, and what you want him/her to do for you to help the project succeed.

You walk a fine line here of being credible with your sponsor and giving them the elevator pitch. If you've already established credibility with your project sponsor to the point where you're a trusted project manager, then you can possibly afford to be more high level in your communications because he or she is going to trust you with the details. If you're an unknown quantity or (gulp) have gone negative in the credibility column, you're going to need to be prepared for deep-dives on areas that the project sponsor will want to go. One technique I've seen and used is to have appendix slides which have supporting detail in areas where there's likely to be question. The appendix slides are only meant to be used in the event that a specific question arises to support your claims and would not even be seen if no question arises on the topic.

Being prepared to go through details is important, but there will be the occasional situation where you just don't know the answer or don't have supporting detail. Your best bet at that point is to simply say, "I don't know, and I'll get back to you on <put date here> with the answer." It's much easier to fess up quickly than guess at the answer and later be found wrong. Keep in mind as well that there are only so many "I don't knows" you can use before your credibility becomes an issue. More than a couple in a meeting can turn into a problem pretty quickly.

You don't tell the project sponsor what you need

Working with a project sponsor is a two-way commitment; you need to deliver what the sponsor considers to be important and they need to help you when you've run into an issue you can't resolve on your own. The issue could be with another organization, a need to change policy, a team member not participating as agreed, or a host of other reasons. It's super-important that you are very explicit with what you need the project sponsor to do for you. In your reviews with the project sponsor, it's helpful to have an "asks" slide that very explicitly lays out what you need the project sponsor to do and when you need it by. As I've discussed earlier, make sure that your requests are appropriate for your project sponsor to be addressing. If your requests are inappropriate, you run the risk of exasperating your project sponsor and losing credibility.

You meet either too much or not enough with your project sponsor

Depending on the criticality of the project, you may need to meet with the project sponsor either more or less frequently. I've been on projects where we've met with the project sponsor on a monthly basis for a one-hour update and have also been on projects where we've met weekly for an hour or more. You need to decide along with your project sponsor what the right frequency needs to be. I've found that meeting at least monthly is important to keeping the sponsor engaged and ensuring project success.

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020