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Great Projects Need Great Sponsors, Too!

Behind every great project is a great project manager, and behind every great project manager, there is a great sponsor. Too often, we overlook the importance of sponsors and how their interactions with project management (PM) affect our project success. Lonnie Pacelli offers an expansive look at what makes for the best relationships between sponsors and project managers in an article that pinpoints ten truths in an effective partnership:

  1. Great sponsors clearly articulate a root-cause problem to be solved. Great PMs make sure the team knows (and remembers) what problem is being solved.
  2. Great sponsors ensure the solution solves the root cause problem. Great PMs don’t allow solutions to lose focus.
  3. Great sponsors enforce a “good enough” mindset. Great PMs don’t use “good enough” as an excuse to cut scope.
  4. Great sponsors ensure the project has the right resources to get the work done. Great PMs articulate clear resource requests and “right size” the task to the need.
  5. Great sponsors hold the PM and team accountable for results. Great PMs embrace the accountability and enforce it with the team.
  6. Great sponsors are on top of the big issues and stand at the ready to help resolve them. Great PMs articulate issues clearly and timely and escalate only those they can’t solve.
  7. Great sponsors are an advocate, coach and battering ram for the project. Great PMs know how to leverage a sponsor and listen to the sponsor’s counsel.
  8. Great sponsors willingly make tough decisions even if unpopular or politically charged. Great PMs provide clear and unbiased alternatives, information and consequences to support decision making.
  9. Great sponsors don’t opportunistically increase scope if the project is going well. Great PMs keep the team focused on delivery and don’t claim victory too soon.
  10. Great sponsors continually evaluate priorities and are willing to pull the plug on a project if it no longer makes sense to do. Great PMs don’t get emotionally tied to a project and don’t lobby to keep it alive if it should stop.

While the list above in itself offers a plethora of useful information, the full article goes into even richer detail for those who want to best understand this sophisticated relationship. Pacelli offers his view on this relationship’s importance:

The sponsor/PM partnership on a project is one of those “soft skill” factors that gets frequently overlooked when assessing a PM’s skills but is a key determinant in the success or failure of a project.  Under a healthy partnership, the sponsor and PM work as a singular unit to ensure the project gets what it needs to be as successful as possible using only as many resources as absolutely necessary to secure success.  Under a less than healthy relationship the project will undoubtedly cost more in time and money assuming it even gets completed at all.

About John Friscia

John Friscia is the Editor of Computer Aid's Accelerating IT Success. He began working for Computer Aid, Inc. in 2013 and continues to provide graphic design support for AITS. He graduated summa cum laude from Shippensburg University with a B.A. in English.

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