Invest Now or Pay Later?

investment stepsThe payment is project failure.  The investment is effective project sponsorship.  Successful project managers invest in managing their sponsors: they avoid becoming victim to bad situations by proactively eliciting the support they need.

Examples abound about how project managers manage upwards.  Sell the features to upper managers about their roles as sponsors.  Emphasize the value of sponsorship and the advantages that accrue to business when it is done well.  Ask your sponsors what they know and what they do not know about the projects they are involved in.  This is not meant to reveal ignorance but to get their attention.  Ask for the order:  get executive commitment.  Establish agreements about next steps (action plan).

Emphasize the rewards for project sponsorship:

•An improved standing and profile within the organization:  important projects may empower project sponsors to success (but also may destroy them in case of failure)
•Being linked with an exciting and very successful project:  exciting projects have high visibility in organizations
•Marketing potential for the project sponsor (image selling):  assigned to the project because of professional background and prestige
•Media opportunities at official launches, presentation evenings, and mentions in local newsletters or news:  that means greater popularity
•Get their agenda implemented:  sponsorship represents an opportunity to turn a vision into reality through a set of assigned resources

The ideal situation is proactive sponsorship: getting a project sponsor who is committed, accountable, and serious about the project, knowledgeable, trained, and able not only to talk the talk but also to walk the walk.  Such people are trustworthy in all respects.  Their values are transparent and aligned with the organization and its strategy.  Such sponsors protect the team from disruptive outside influences and back the team up when times are tough.  It is far better to start out with the right sponsor than having to correct a bad sponsorship situation down the road.  That is why it is so important to select the right sponsor and train the person for the role.  An organizational culture committed to this approach is a desired goal.  It represents a well-developed, mature organization.  Do it right the first time and save yourself grief later on.  The best way to sustain good sponsorship is to start out with good sponsorship.  Anything less is remedial.

Creating excellence in project management includes managing the sponsor role.  Sponsor activities and behaviors vary with the organization.  The lack of good project sponsorship is a major case of difficulties and problems on projects.  Well-executed sponsorship by senior executives brings better project results.  Be part of a team to make this happen.

Adapted from Project Sponsorship:  Achieving Management Commitment for Project Success by Englund and Bucero.
– Randy Englund,


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