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How to smash it as a project sponsor

Colin Ellis | Nov. 28, 2014
Project management greatness awaits those who can master governance, use an agile development environment, motivate teams, take planning seriously, and pick the right manager.

In recent blog post, I gave project managers some advice on how to get what they want from their senior managers.

Managing 'upwards' isn't a skill that easy to teach. It takes trial and error, potentially some changes in a person's personality and new approaches to communicating with people. The same is also true of being a good project sponsor.

Good governance is at the heart of every successful project and also the failed ones too. A 2011 report by the Victorian Ombusdman into ICT-enabled projects listed lack of leadership, accountability and governance as the key reasons for project failures.

The report said it was hard to identify who was accountable, or if there was a tendency to blame people who were previously involved in a project.

Leadership from the top is required if this is to change.' The same was also observed in a 2013 Standish Group report.

Performing the role of project sponsor is an assumed skill for every senior manager, but unless you've had prior experience, the role can come as somewhat as a shock to the system when you realise just how much is involved. This is particularly true if you've got more than one that you are sponsoring.

Having been on both sides of the fence I know what it takes to succeed as a sponsor and offer the following tips as a start point for those new to the role of project sponsor or for those wanting to further develop their skills.

Governance isn't something you can delegate
Good project governance takes time. Lots of time. It's not something you can delegate, put on the back burner, prioritise out or pretend isn't really happening.

You need to commit to it early and be visible as the project figurehead. If you're a CIO and decide to give one of your team the responsibility, then you need to make absolutely sure that they have the skills to do it.

'Sharing the love' isn't a good thing to do for governance roles. The right person needs to be selected for the right governance role and this needs to be made clear to your team when discussing their strengths.

I even suggested recently that this could be someone who's sole purpose it is to be a project sponsor and nothing else.

However you decide to do it, just make sure you give yourself plenty of time to be the best sponsor you can be for your project. Your career may depend on it.

Only fools rush in
As Elvis Presley once said 'wise men say, only fools rush in' and projects are a great example of that. Mind you, he also said 'If you bring a friend into your love affair, that's the end of your sweetheart', so he's probably not the best role model to use.


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