Role of the Project Sponsor

role of project sponsor

What is the role of the project sponsor and how can they influence the outcome of the project? These are some of the questions that every Project Manager needs to be asking themselves at the every stage of the project. Sponsors play an integral part. In this section, I will discuss not only the role that the sponsors play on the projects but also identify key responsibilities that they can undertake in order to assist the Project Managers with successful delivery of the project results.

Every organization which undertakes on key initiatives selects an executive who will be ultimately responsible for the overall outcome of the project. These executives act in the role of the project sponsors rather than Project Managers because of their existing commitments in their current roles.

According to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, having an executive project sponsors who are actively engaged in the project is the leading factor in project success. This statement can be confirmed by almost any Project Manager out there. Having an actively engaged project sponsor is one of the integral parts of project success.

Let’s take a look at the very basic project lifecycle structure: Initiation, Planning, Execution, Monitor & Control:

  • Initiation: inception, Project Charter, formal approval
  • Planning: Project Management Plan(s)
  • Execution: delivery of the project
  • Monitor & Control: final testing, sign off

In terms of the sponsor role, there are three factors that contribute to the overall success. First, the customer impact or the overall value that the project outcome will produce for the customer, whether internal or external. Second, the project metrics such as those of the ‘iron triangle’ – the scope, schedule and budget. Third, the alignment with corporate strategy and future benefits for the organization at large. Let’s analyze the role of the project sponsor for each of the project stages.

The initiation stage revolves around the project metrics and KPIs, the selection and mentorship of the Project Manager, and prioritizing project goals. Clear, concise and agreed upon project performance metrics are essential as part of the ongoing dialogue between the sponsor and the Project Manager. Some of the companies employ the mechanism of SMART objects, others have specific model for establishing the KPIs. Whatever the case may be, the most important element here is to ensure that the sponsor and the Project Manager are in consensus on how the performance will be measured and how to go about any changes. Moreover, sponsor is the one responsible for not only selecting the Project Manager but coaching and mentoring her throughout the entire project duration. As part of the coaching process, the sponsor shall focus on making sure that the Project Manager has a clear picture on how a particular project aligns with the overall company strategy and objectives. Lastly, the sponsor should actively engage with the Project Manager in setting the project priorities and provide recommendations on how the conflicts should be addressed.

The planning phase is all about communication and alignment. During this stage, the Project Manager takes the lead role in developing the plans for budget, schedule and scope with the input from the sponsor. In addition, such deliverables as Communication Plan, Risk Management Plan and high level Change Control Process are produced by the Project Manager. During the planning stage, the Project Manager and the sponsor collaborate on preparing a document called Stakeholder Register which is essentially a repository of key stakeholders on this particular project. Establishing relationships with these stakeholders is an important endeavor and the sponsor plays an integral part. Successful project sponsors strive to create an environment which promotes open and collaborative communication between the Project Manager and the stakeholders on continuous basis throughout the project and after its completion.

The execution stage is all about the communication and stakeholder relationship management. I probably do not need to keep emphasizing the importance of communication but the sponsors can be an effective resource in removing obstacles and impediments, address any conflicts that are beyond the Project Manager’s capacity to resolve and they can assist with bridging the communication gaps with the appropriate senior executives. Successful sponsors also invest their time in developing and maintaining relationships with the key project stakeholders. They communicate, escalate any issues and apply preventive and corrective actions in collaborative manner with the stakeholders.

The monitor and control stage involves effective knowledge management and transfer activities, as well as ensuring that the project benefits are truly realized. Sponsors should ensure that the key lesson from the project are identified and properly documented. These will help on the future projects as the teams will evaluate these key lessons during the planning stages of the new project.

What experience(s) have you had with your Project Sponsor and how did you deal with them? Share your thoughts below.