Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Help your Sponsor through the Project minefield

In a previous post I have already spoken about the need to be given or to seek the right owner for the project, typically called a Sponsor and in PRINCE2, augmented by other roles to form a Project Board. But don't assume that the Sponsor or Board know their role within a project framework and the jargon that comes along with projects so be prepared to help and educate!

A Project Manager should help his Sponsor through the Project Minefield

Don't expect too much and you won't be disappointed

It would be great if Sponsors turned up with a good vision for the project, the business case to justify making the investment and a full understanding of the Project processes within the organisation. I've never been this lucky yet.

In the previous post I spoke of WHY as being the word in my mind when meeting or seeking a Sponsor for the first time. If the Sponsor doesn't have the vision for what the Project is achieving for the organisation, then alarm bells should ring. Everything after the vision is an optional extra as far as I am concerned and I will aim to be the Sponsor's right hand man (even if I will challenge the Sponsor at times) and help with the rest of the Project minefield.

The best Sponsors I have come across are senior folk in the business so the other thing you should assume is that they will be busy and have limited time.

Educate the Sponsor on their Project role

One of the first things I will do is ensure they understand what I expect of the Sponsor and Project Board. I will typically suggest formal monthly Project Board meetings (augmented by weekly status reports) and in the PowerPoint deck for the first ever Board meeting, you will also see summarised in one or two slides the following points re the Sponsor/Board "owner" role:
  • accountable to the business for the investment in the project and achieving the project benefits
  • owning the project execution (that is different from day to day management which is the responsibility of the Project Manager)
  • approving key documents at various points in the project life-cycle
  • making timely decisions as requested by the Project Manager
  • assistance in securing resources
  • championing the project in the organisation (and potentially externally)

Help Sponsor develop the business case

Although I expect the Sponsor to have a vision for the project they may need help in articulating the project business case which will justify why the investment is warranted and what benefits will be achieved. I will return to this topic in more detail in a future post but the key point for now is to be prepared to help in the preparation of this document.

Help the Sponsor through the Project Minefield minimising jargon

Help your Sponsor through any organisational processes such as external Gate reviews and the Project life-cycle itself giving them a heads up on what is coming up in the next month to 3 month horizon. Try and minimise the Project Management jargon as much as humanly possible and when it is difficult to avoid at least explain what you mean rather than assuming that they know.

Minimise the detail with the Sponsor

Remember your Sponsor is likely to be very busy, time poor and by nature of the role that they are likely to have in the organisation, be a personality type which doesn't want to wallow in detail and just want enough information to make a decision or direct others (in Myers-Briggs terminology they could well be ENTJ). So plan your communications to be snappy with underpinning detail held separately to only be used where necessary.

In summary - gain the Sponsor's confidence in you

This probably won't be achieved overnight but focus on the relationship so that the partnership works well to deliver the Project. I always look to: 
  • be helpful and take load of the Sponsor where ever possible
  • most importantly be honest in my assessments on project status and minimise escalation to those that really need Sponsor / Board discussion and/or action
  • unless requested, minimise the time taken with the Sponsor 
  • summarise the detail in communications (with underpinning detail available)
  • avoid jargon and when it is used at least explain in advance if possible
  • generally help the Sponsor through the Project minefield giving advanced notice of up and coming activities which need their involvement
  • plan ahead in the Sponsor's calendar avoiding meetings organised at short notice unless unavoidable
To conclude, once you have found the right visionary Sponsor look to build a good working relationship and be prepared to help them through the Project minefield because they are unlikely to know it all.


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