Project Management

The Sponsor Makes or Breaks Your Project Success

Stormy times are upon us, literally, but also perhaps in the life of your project. A project sponsor is supposed to be your umbrella in the storm, in addition to the flashlight and the blinking directional signs. When the sponsor stops acting in any of those functions, you can get wet and lost real quick. In a post at Project Bliss, Leigh Espy explains the many benefits of great project sponsors—and what happens when they underperform.

Ride the Lightning

In the first place, Espy finds that sponsors can help project managers in the following varied ways:

  1. Identify or validate the business need
  2. Prioritize projects
  3. Ensure adequate project resources
  4. Secure the project budget
  5. Resolve escalated issues
  6. Communicate with stakeholders
  7. Provide executive support
  8. Provide high-level decision-making
  9. Approve project changes
  10. Mentor the project manager

These benefits clearly outline how much direction and structure sponsors are expected to provide to a project. When there are not enough resources to deliver the vision—you go to the sponsor. When you are not clear on what the vision is in the first place—you go to the sponsor. When users need to be convinced (i.e., forced) to replace their legacy software with your project’s modern deliverables—you go to the sponsor. It is difficult to understate the sponsor’s value to the project manager.

Along those same lines, it can be crippling to project success if the sponsor is disengaged or aloof. Espy shares a story of an expert consultant who knew his project sponsor cared about his project, but the sponsor never relayed his vision of the project’s value to anyone else. The consultant recognized this and voiced concern, but it proved not to be enough: Would-be users never adopted the project’s deliverables because they did not have a reason to care about it.

If you find yourself in a similar pickle, Espy offers this advice:

If the project sponsor isn’t providing the support a project needs, the project manager must use her communication skills to convey the risk to the project. First get clear on what those risks are and what you need from the project sponsor. Be clear on what the team has tried already and what’s not working so that the sponsor has the necessary background information.

If you’re unclear about your project sponsor’s expectations, discuss the project goals with him. Ask questions to get clarity on expected outcomes. Ask the project sponsor what a successful outcome looks like. Having them define project success helps you both get clearer about the desired outcome.

Expectations must be set now instead of implied later.

For further elaboration on these ideas, you can view the original post here:


John Friscia

John Friscia was the Editor of Computer Aid's Accelerating IT Success from 2015 through 2018. He began working for Computer Aid, Inc. in 2013 and grew in every possible way in his time there. John graduated summa cum laude from Shippensburg University with a B.A. in English.

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