A Project Sponsor Wrecked My Project
Sponsors play an important role throughout the life of a project. They help support, shape, and integrate the project to realize the benefits for the business. But the Sponsors can also hinder the success of a project. They can harm a project by becoming too elusive or too intrusive. In this article, I will share the havoc caused by an intrusive sponsor.
An Intrusive sponsor tries to take too much control over the project. It is important to remember that the Sponsor is not the Project Manager and, as such, should not be trying to micromanage the project.
Let us first start with the definition of a project sponsor.
A Project Sponsor is a person or group who owns the project and provides resources and support for the project, program, or portfolio to enable its success. Every project has at least one project sponsor. Project sponsors are senior managers or executives who liaise between the project and organizational goals.
One of the critical success factors for any project is the presence and participation of an effective project sponsor. The Project Management Institute reports that the top driver of those projects meeting their original business goals is an actively engaged executive sponsor (PMI, 2018). However, the same project management research also found that one in three failed projects are linked to poorly engaged executive sponsorship.
Sponsor’s Primary responsibilities:
– Sponsors help clarify project goals from the organization’s perspective and guide project managers to make consistent tradeoffs across the project’s schedule, scope, and resources.
– Sponsors serve as a point of escalation when decisions or actions are needed to keep the project on track for matters outside the authority of the project manager.
Not every Sponsor wants to be confined to their primary responsibilities.
Not every Sponsor wants to guide PMs, preferring to micromanage them.
Not every Sponsor respects the PMs boundaries and authority.
In some cases, a sponsor’s overzealousness to make a project successful can sabotage the project. A sponsor can create or destroy value for a business. They can act as a hinderance to project success.
Here is my true story between myself (the Project Manager) and the Sponsor. Let’s call him Mr. A.
A brief background about this project
It was a project in a startup company. I was well supported by the Sponsor, who also happened to be the owner of that company.
Here are the few scenarios which lead to the project’s doom:
As the project had aggressive timelines, Mr. A suggested hiring freelancers to expedite the work. He recommended a few profiles that he had shortlisted from LinkedIn. I selected one freelancer from that list and started working with him.
What an excellent camaraderie between a Sponsor and a PM. Right?
The supportive Sponsor wanted to give more support. He started micromanaging me. He was asking questions like:
How frequently do you connect with that freelancer? How are you tracking his work?
As the freelancer was doing data entry work, I delegated the supervision of his work to another team member. This way, I could concentrate on more pressing issues in the project.
But Mr. A did not like it. He wanted me to supervise that freelancer directly.
Overriding PM’s decisions
We were working hard to achieve the unrealistic timelines. As the due date got closer, I decided to share the actual situation with the customer and ask for more time. I hope that sharing the information about the real efforts to complete the ongoing tasks would help the customers see the massiveness of the work. I would own the misjudgments of estimates done earlier in the project (although those commitments were made by Mr. A.)
But it does not matter as we are one team, Right?
Alas, I did not get to share this information with the customer. Instead, Mr. A had a private conversation with the customer and asked for a one-week extension timeline. In place of the extension, he also committed to doing some extra work.
I was caught unaware when I received this information from the customer on a slack group channel.
Expect the impossible
We could not deliver the work we had already committed for this week, on top of the extra work due in another week. I became furious! How could Mr. A have this conversation without first discussing the impact of the scope changes with me? Mr. A crossed a boundry and overstepped my authority on this project.
Many other things unfolded after that and I eventually left the project. Mr. A eagerly stepped into the shoes of interim Project Manager.
I became an observer on this project and provided my help as and when required.
How the wrecked project looked
Firstly, the project could not be delivered even after the time extension that Mr. A got from the customer.
Secondly, he made the entire company work on that project.
And thirdly, the customer was unhappy about this delay and voiced his concern over the slack channel by sending angry messages to the entire team.
We all know that for a project to be successful, the Project Manager and the Sponsor need to work hand in hand. And we also know that this collaboration is often missing in projects.
In many cases, the PM has to spend more time handling Sponsor queries rather than project queries.
How should a PM handle an intrusive Sponsor?
Before talking more about this subject, understand that it is a sensitive topic to handle. As in most cases, the Sponsor also happens to be the PM’s immediate boss.
Hence PMs need to handle it so they do not damage the working relationship with their manager.
- Train and Educate – Sponsors (specifically, those who are also startup owners) must be educated on what it takes to effectively work with a project team. Sponsors should be explicitly and deliberately taught to deal with projects, project issues, and project people. In addition, they need to learn about change management – the effective tradeoff between cost, duration, and performance.
- Clarify Expectations – Understanding what the Sponsor expects from a PM. They may have a different understanding of what project managers do and how PMs can help them. For example, some people might think PMs just do all the paperwork and nothing else. Ensure the Sponsor completely understands a PMs roles and responsibilities.
- Set up the Communication plan – Establish the frequency, granularity, and channels for communication between the PM and the Sponsor to share the project progress or impediments. Communication channels include status meetings, automated reports, dashboards, and impromptu conversations. When sponsors start weighing in on all the minor details, the PM can remind them about the agreements made in the communication plan.
Project sponsors are essential to the success of any project. They provide the financial support and resources necessary for a project to exist. They can have a hugely positive impact on the success of a project. While they can be helpful, they can also hinder if not properly managed.
The three ways in which we can handle the intrusive Sponsor is:
– Educate them about Sponsor and PM roles and responsibilities
– Set the clear expectations
– Be honest with them to ensure a successful project outcome
We can also sum up the above three points in a single sentence – A Sponsor needs to know their boundaries and accept the boundaries of a Project Manager!