As they say in the army, never volunteer. Nowhere could that be truer than when it comes to project sponsorship. Given a choice between a root canal and project sponsorship, most managers and executives start looking up dentists on the internet. It is a sad fact—one that project managers must deal with on a daily basis. It is often the project manager’s first solid opportunity to lead up.
Recently I received the book Strategies for Project Sponsorship by Vicki James (@VickiPPS), Ron Rosenhead (@ronrosenhead), and Peter Taylor (@thelazypm), all trustworthy twitter contributors. It took a while for the book to trickle “up” to the top of my stack; however, when it did I was more than impressed.
Train Your Sponsor
Whether you are a sponsor, an executive looking to assign a sponsor, or a project manager stuck with a less than optimal sponsor Strategies for Project Sponsorship underscores one critical fact—sponsors need training. The authors refer to it in politically correct terms of “influencing” and often more directly. In doing so, it is obvious that they have struggle for many hours, learning multiple tricks, attempting to get the most (in some cases, anything) out of a reluctant leader.
It starts with boldly stepping up and attempting to influence the selection of the individual. This is time well spent for any project manager. It gives you the opportunity to map out the degree of support you will get and training you will need to do. Notice that this is in the definitive—you will need to do training—sponsorship is not well understood.
Following this, the book continues to stress that point with tables and lists that will help you gain the most from your sponsor. One especially interesting tool, Sponsor Responsibility Evaluation Tool (which is repeated in Appendix B as a checklist), is a simple yet powerful table that identifies seventeen attributes for ranking your sponsor capabilities in supporting you and your project. This clear and concise method allows you to focus on where your sponsor needs help.
My recommendation would be to reformat this document and create a template job description for the project sponsor role in you organization. As in any other situation, when someone assumes the role, provide them with a job description.
The Stakeholder Involvement
In my experience, the most important role for a sponsor is identifying and helping to manage the key stakeholders. Chapter 4 is dedicated to defining the stakeholders’ involvement in the project—including creating an influence map. This tool is critical in not only defining which stakeholder’s are pigs and which are chickens (to use an agile term) but also to clearly communicate with your sponsor who needs the most attention when requests and issues surface. Without this matrix, neither you (as an executive or a project manager) know that the proper priority is being placed on your project’s stakeholders.
The Infamous Check List
In our hectic world where we wear multiple hats in any given hour, how can you remember all that you need to do. Focusing attention on one challenge just leaves others unattended to come back and bite you next week. The only solution is a good set of notes to prod your memory. Appendix C is just that, The Definitive Project Manager Checklist. This is a great quick reference guide to how to run your project and drive your sponsor. It is a nice credo to post in your office.
Quick Valuable Read
Strategies for Project Sponsorship is a quick and valuable read for executives, would-be and current sponsors, and project managers. Its tips on selecting, influencing, and training sponsors will help your projects stay focused and achieve better results. I strongly recommend reading it and following its advice.