The Case of the Missing Project Sponsor

A project should never be approved without an official sponsor, who is willing to lobby and fight for it. Unfortunately, there are still many organizations that don’t have a decent project governance process for project selection and approval.

As project managers, we get too excited about new projects that we sometimes start work without a project sponsor. Managing a project of this kind, no matter how small or simple, is an exercise in self-inflicted pain. I’ll take a large and complex project with strong sponsorship any time of the day, but please don’t assign me to a small project without a sponsor. It is torture.

Guerrilla Project Management golden rule # 1:  Never start a project without a project sponsor.

So why do we need a sponsor?

Projects get in trouble. When this happens, the Project Manager needs a sponsor to serve as a partner to share any danger and exposure. The sponsor must be willing to invest his or her political capital to protect the project (not that all sponsors are willing to do this off course).

Project Management history is filled with evidence that projects without sponsors fail. So why do Project Manager still accept projects with no sponsors?

I believe there are 3 main reasons for this:

  • Lack of confidence: We avoid taking risks. So we don’t push back. We fear the “perceived” consequences of saying “no”. So we completely avoid negotiating for what we need to get our projects done effectively and with minimum struggle.
  •  The Hero Syndrome: This is the unconscious need to feel indispensable, appreciated, or valued. We become addicted to the praise we get when we deliver on tough assignments and the projects from hell.
  •  Addiction to adrenaline: We forget the basics of project management from getting so used to firefighting that we develop an addiction to the adrenaline that comes with high stress projects. We need to kick the habit.

So why starting a project without a sponsor is a deadly mistake?

  • If the project gets in trouble before a sponsor is assigned, then for sure nobody will now be willing to accept the role. People will think you are looking for a scapegoat rather than a sponsor.
  • Decisions made, before the sponsor is assigned, will always be open to challenge by the sponsor.
  • And if the project gets in trouble down the road, the sponsor can always claim that he or she was not involved in the earlier decisions in the project. Therefore, they cannot be held accountable.

So if you do get assigned to one of these projects, here are some tactics you can use:

1.    Delay starting the project

This is important. Try everything you can to delay any work on the project until the project sponsor is assigned. Do not set up the project Kick-off meeting or any other meetings where any project decisions may be made.

In the meantime,

2.    Define your expectations of the sponsor

You don’t want people to be confused about the role of the sponsor. Treat it like any other role on your project. Write down exactly what you expect from them. Develop a comprehensive description of all the responsibilities for which they will be accountable.

3.    Do your research

Find out who the real sponsor should be for your project. The ideal candidates for the role are typically the heads of the department or the division that will get the benefit of the project outcome. This is also the person who will be accountable for the budget and schedule of the project.

Ask you manager or the person who tasked you with the project. Interview the business representatives that participated in the development of the project proposal.

Once you identify one or more candidates, share your findings with the person who tasked you with the project and ask them to assign a sponsor. Despite the advice you may have read elsewhere, it is not your job to recruit a sponsor directly.

4.    If you get pushback, negotiate

Because the idea of a sponsor may be new in some organizations and the sponsor’s responsibilities may not be well established, be prepared to negotiate but don’t give in. You may have to lower your expectations. But at least make sure you have a person assigned.

It is possible that despite all that you have done, you still may get pushback and be forced to start the project without a sponsor.

And if this fails…

5.    Use intelligent disobedience

At this point, you have tried everything and your management is forcing you to start the project anyway. The following tactics are risky and your mileage may vary so be careful:

Tactic 1: Try to get the project cancelled

  • This may sound extreme, but you will be surprised how quickly a sponsor can emerge, when there is a threat that the project will be cancelled. If there is a strong interest in the project, then a sponsor will step up and assume the role. Let others build the case for why you should take on this project. The person who shows the most enthusiasm is probably the sponsor you have been looking for.
  • If you cannot get the project totally cancelled, then continue to express your lack of confidence in the success of the project every opportunity you have.
  • Eventually, this may create uncertainty and doubt among senior management and they may decide to act by assigning a sponsor. Otherwise, the project will just get cancelled and you will be spared a major headache.

Tactic 2: Continue the campaign

  • Never stop campaigning to get a sponsor for your project. Any opportunity you get, overwhelm who tasked you with the project with issues, risks, and action items that you would normally discuss with your sponsor. Eventually they may give up and help you get a sponsor.
  • Make sure to follow-up with a weekly summary email to this person, in the case of they have “recollection error” in the future.
  • Every opportunity you get to talk to other senior managers, remind them of the risk of not having a sponsor on your project. They may listen eventually.

Tactic 3: Apply project management fundamentals

  • Document, Document, Document: Make sure this issue is all over your Risk Log, Issue Log, and Action Item Log. Keep these documents up-to-date and make sure everyone connected to the project reads them.
  • Communicate: Make sure you to send a detailed weekly project status to the whole project team, your manager, and the person who assigned you to the project.
  • Escalate: As soon as issues develop, escalate to your managers and follow-up with written documentation.

Using these tactics may upset some people and you may be told to stop. Do so but don’t forget that document that as well.

Projects can be fun. But when they get in trouble, they can be dangerous. Don’t be a hero. Be courageous and ask for what you need to be successful. Never go it alone.

I would love to hear your take on this topic and your experience on projects with missing sponsors. Please leave a comment on this post or email me (samad at GuerrillaProjectManagement.com).

There are no comments yet. Be the first and leave a response!

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The Case of the Missing Project Sponsor

A project should never be approved without an official sponsor, who is willing to lobby and fight for it. Unfortunately, there are still many organizations that don’t have a decent project governance process for project selection and approval.

As project managers, we get too excited about new projects that we sometimes start work without a project sponsor. Managing a project of this kind, no matter how small or simple, is an exercise in self-inflicted pain. I’ll take a large and complex project with strong sponsorship any time of the day, but please don’t assign me to a small project without a sponsor. It is torture.

Guerrilla Project Management golden rule # 1:  Never start a project without a project sponsor.

So why do we need a sponsor?

Projects get in trouble. When this happens, the Project Manager needs a sponsor to serve as a partner to share any danger and exposure. The sponsor must be willing to invest his or her political capital to protect the project (not that all sponsors are willing to do this off course).

Project Management history is filled with evidence that projects without sponsors fail. So why do Project Manager still accept projects with no sponsors?

I believe there are 3 main reasons for this:

  • Lack of confidence: We avoid taking risks. So we don’t push back. We fear the “perceived” consequences of saying “no”. So we completely avoid negotiating for what we need to get our projects done effectively and with minimum struggle.
  •  The Hero Syndrome: This is the unconscious need to feel indispensable, appreciated, or valued. We become addicted to the praise we get when we deliver on tough assignments and the projects from hell.
  •  Addiction to adrenaline: We forget the basics of project management from getting so used to firefighting that we develop an addiction to the adrenaline that comes with high stress projects. We need to kick the habit.

So why starting a project without a sponsor is a deadly mistake?

  • If the project gets in trouble before a sponsor is assigned, then for sure nobody will now be willing to accept the role. People will think you are looking for a scapegoat rather than a sponsor.
  • Decisions made, before the sponsor is assigned, will always be open to challenge by the sponsor.
  • And if the project gets in trouble down the road, the sponsor can always claim that he or she was not involved in the earlier decisions in the project. Therefore, they cannot be held accountable.

So if you do get assigned to one of these projects, here are some tactics you can use:

1.    Delay starting the project

This is important. Try everything you can to delay any work on the project until the project sponsor is assigned. Do not set up the project Kick-off meeting or any other meetings where any project decisions may be made.

In the meantime,

2.    Define your expectations of the sponsor

You don’t want people to be confused about the role of the sponsor. Treat it like any other role on your project. Write down exactly what you expect from them. Develop a comprehensive description of all the responsibilities for which they will be accountable.

3.    Do your research

Find out who the real sponsor should be for your project. The ideal candidates for the role are typically the heads of the department or the division that will get the benefit of the project outcome. This is also the person who will be accountable for the budget and schedule of the project.

Ask you manager or the person who tasked you with the project. Interview the business representatives that participated in the development of the project proposal.

Once you identify one or more candidates, share your findings with the person who tasked you with the project and ask them to assign a sponsor. Despite the advice you may have read elsewhere, it is not your job to recruit a sponsor directly.

4.    If you get pushback, negotiate

Because the idea of a sponsor may be new in some organizations and the sponsor’s responsibilities may not be well established, be prepared to negotiate but don’t give in. You may have to lower your expectations. But at least make sure you have a person assigned.

It is possible that despite all that you have done, you still may get pushback and be forced to start the project without a sponsor.

And if this fails…

5.    Use intelligent disobedience

At this point, you have tried everything and your management is forcing you to start the project anyway. The following tactics are risky and your mileage may vary so be careful:

Tactic 1: Try to get the project cancelled

  • This may sound extreme, but you will be surprised how quickly a sponsor can emerge, when there is a threat that the project will be cancelled. If there is a strong interest in the project, then a sponsor will step up and assume the role. Let others build the case for why you should take on this project. The person who shows the most enthusiasm is probably the sponsor you have been looking for.
  • If you cannot get the project totally cancelled, then continue to express your lack of confidence in the success of the project every opportunity you have.
  • Eventually, this may create uncertainty and doubt among senior management and they may decide to act by assigning a sponsor. Otherwise, the project will just get cancelled and you will be spared a major headache.

Tactic 2: Continue the campaign

  • Never stop campaigning to get a sponsor for your project. Any opportunity you get, overwhelm who tasked you with the project with issues, risks, and action items that you would normally discuss with your sponsor. Eventually they may give up and help you get a sponsor.
  • Make sure to follow-up with a weekly summary email to this person, in the case of they have “recollection error” in the future.
  • Every opportunity you get to talk to other senior managers, remind them of the risk of not having a sponsor on your project. They may listen eventually.

Tactic 3: Apply project management fundamentals

  • Document, Document, Document: Make sure this issue is all over your Risk Log, Issue Log, and Action Item Log. Keep these documents up-to-date and make sure everyone connected to the project reads them.
  • Communicate: Make sure you to send a detailed weekly project status to the whole project team, your manager, and the person who assigned you to the project.
  • Escalate: As soon as issues develop, escalate to your managers and follow-up with written documentation.

Using these tactics may upset some people and you may be told to stop. Do so but don’t forget that document that as well.

Projects can be fun. But when they get in trouble, they can be dangerous. Don’t be a hero. Be courageous and ask for what you need to be successful. Never go it alone.

I would love to hear your take on this topic and your experience on projects with missing sponsors. Please leave a comment on this post or email me (samad at GuerrillaProjectManagement.com).

There are no comments yet. Be the first and leave a response!

Leave a Reply

Wanting to leave an <em>phasis on your comment?

Trackback URL http://www.guerrillaprojectmanagement.com/the-case-of-the-missing-project-sponsor/trackback

The Case of the Missing Project Sponsor

A project should never be approved without an official sponsor, who is willing to lobby and fight for it. Unfortunately, there are still many organizations that don’t have a decent project governance process for project selection and approval.

As project managers, we get too excited about new projects that we sometimes start work without a project sponsor. Managing a project of this kind, no matter how small or simple, is an exercise in self-inflicted pain. I’ll take a large and complex project with strong sponsorship any time of the day, but please don’t assign me to a small project without a sponsor. It is torture.

Guerrilla Project Management golden rule # 1:  Never start a project without a project sponsor.

So why do we need a sponsor?

Projects get in trouble. When this happens, the Project Manager needs a sponsor to serve as a partner to share any danger and exposure. The sponsor must be willing to invest his or her political capital to protect the project (not that all sponsors are willing to do this off course).

Project Management history is filled with evidence that projects without sponsors fail. So why do Project Manager still accept projects with no sponsors?

I believe there are 3 main reasons for this:

  • Lack of confidence: We avoid taking risks. So we don’t push back. We fear the “perceived” consequences of saying “no”. So we completely avoid negotiating for what we need to get our projects done effectively and with minimum struggle.
  •  The Hero Syndrome: This is the unconscious need to feel indispensable, appreciated, or valued. We become addicted to the praise we get when we deliver on tough assignments and the projects from hell.
  •  Addiction to adrenaline: We forget the basics of project management from getting so used to firefighting that we develop an addiction to the adrenaline that comes with high stress projects. We need to kick the habit.

So why starting a project without a sponsor is a deadly mistake?

  • If the project gets in trouble before a sponsor is assigned, then for sure nobody will now be willing to accept the role. People will think you are looking for a scapegoat rather than a sponsor.
  • Decisions made, before the sponsor is assigned, will always be open to challenge by the sponsor.
  • And if the project gets in trouble down the road, the sponsor can always claim that he or she was not involved in the earlier decisions in the project. Therefore, they cannot be held accountable.

So if you do get assigned to one of these projects, here are some tactics you can use:

1.    Delay starting the project

This is important. Try everything you can to delay any work on the project until the project sponsor is assigned. Do not set up the project Kick-off meeting or any other meetings where any project decisions may be made.

In the meantime,

2.    Define your expectations of the sponsor

You don’t want people to be confused about the role of the sponsor. Treat it like any other role on your project. Write down exactly what you expect from them. Develop a comprehensive description of all the responsibilities for which they will be accountable.

3.    Do your research

Find out who the real sponsor should be for your project. The ideal candidates for the role are typically the heads of the department or the division that will get the benefit of the project outcome. This is also the person who will be accountable for the budget and schedule of the project.

Ask you manager or the person who tasked you with the project. Interview the business representatives that participated in the development of the project proposal.

Once you identify one or more candidates, share your findings with the person who tasked you with the project and ask them to assign a sponsor. Despite the advice you may have read elsewhere, it is not your job to recruit a sponsor directly.

4.    If you get pushback, negotiate

Because the idea of a sponsor may be new in some organizations and the sponsor’s responsibilities may not be well established, be prepared to negotiate but don’t give in. You may have to lower your expectations. But at least make sure you have a person assigned.

It is possible that despite all that you have done, you still may get pushback and be forced to start the project without a sponsor.

And if this fails…

5.    Use intelligent disobedience

At this point, you have tried everything and your management is forcing you to start the project anyway. The following tactics are risky and your mileage may vary so be careful:

Tactic 1: Try to get the project cancelled

  • This may sound extreme, but you will be surprised how quickly a sponsor can emerge, when there is a threat that the project will be cancelled. If there is a strong interest in the project, then a sponsor will step up and assume the role. Let others build the case for why you should take on this project. The person who shows the most enthusiasm is probably the sponsor you have been looking for.
  • If you cannot get the project totally cancelled, then continue to express your lack of confidence in the success of the project every opportunity you have.
  • Eventually, this may create uncertainty and doubt among senior management and they may decide to act by assigning a sponsor. Otherwise, the project will just get cancelled and you will be spared a major headache.

Tactic 2: Continue the campaign

  • Never stop campaigning to get a sponsor for your project. Any opportunity you get, overwhelm who tasked you with the project with issues, risks, and action items that you would normally discuss with your sponsor. Eventually they may give up and help you get a sponsor.
  • Make sure to follow-up with a weekly summary email to this person, in the case of they have “recollection error” in the future.
  • Every opportunity you get to talk to other senior managers, remind them of the risk of not having a sponsor on your project. They may listen eventually.

Tactic 3: Apply project management fundamentals

  • Document, Document, Document: Make sure this issue is all over your Risk Log, Issue Log, and Action Item Log. Keep these documents up-to-date and make sure everyone connected to the project reads them.
  • Communicate: Make sure you to send a detailed weekly project status to the whole project team, your manager, and the person who assigned you to the project.
  • Escalate: As soon as issues develop, escalate to your managers and follow-up with written documentation.

Using these tactics may upset some people and you may be told to stop. Do so but don’t forget that document that as well.

Projects can be fun. But when they get in trouble, they can be dangerous. Don’t be a hero. Be courageous and ask for what you need to be successful. Never go it alone.

I would love to hear your take on this topic and your experience on projects with missing sponsors. Please leave a comment on this post or email me (samad at GuerrillaProjectManagement.com).

There are no comments yet. Be the first and leave a response!

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