As someone new to the role of project sponsor what can you expect. As well as what do you need to look out for. It’s the project manager’s job to make the project successful, isn’t it? I am just here to guide and sign off some financials and make sure my department gets what it wants. All good thoughts; and your role as project sponsor can involve all those things and more.
At the start of a new project
As the sponsor, you are likely to be the owner of the budget. If you are not the budget holder then you have “sponsored” the project to higher authority to obtain the funding. The project manager takes day by day responsibility for the budget. The project manager should be able to help assemble the business case. But the sponsor should own and drive the business case.
Before the start of the project you need to ensure that a project proposal of some form is established. The nature of the proposal will depend on the project approach used in your organisation and the size of project. It might take shape as an initial outline that you prepare. In some cases there might be a project pipeline process that brings together this information. In any case, as a sponsor you need to ensure it has been done and you are comfortable with what is proposed. The project needs to have clear and worthwhile objectives.
In many organisations, the sponsor will approve the project management team. In smaller projects the project management team is only the project manager. It is key that you and the project manager establish a way of working that fits the needs of the project and your own styles. Experience project managers will guide you through this process and document the agreement in the project control documents. This will vary depending on the project management approach and your company standards.
Establishing the ground rules in the early stage of the project will help you and the project team improve the project outcome.
Your project manager should be able to provide details of the reporting and status information you will get from the project. If you need communication on specific areas of the project, you should advise your project manager. You might be expected to act as an ambassador for the project both internally in the organisation and in the wider community if that is appropriate.
The early work to establish how involved you need to be and what information you will receive in updates and status will help ease expectation on you. The last thing you need is for the project to stop and prepare updates for you when you need to represent the project to a broader audience
During the life of the project
As a project sponsor you will get updates from the project manager on progress. If everything is on track and circumstances remain stable you may not need further involvement. All projects have risks and issues of some form and often these will result in changes to plan. Some changes to plan can be contained within budget and timescale but often the impact of a change request will suggest the need for additional budget or a change in timescale or scope.
You as project sponsor must be fully aware of the impact to the project and approve change requests. In practice, you may agree with the project manager that you only get involved in change requests that have a negative impact on time, cost or deliverables. What you delegate to the project manager and their team will depend on the time you can allow for the project and your level of confidence in the project manager and the team.
The sponsor needs to continue to review the project against the business case and any approved changes.
At close of the project and beyond
As the sponsor, you might also be the key customer of the project. Even if you are not directly the customer you need to be assured that the objectives have been satisfied. That the project has completed the deliverables, and they are accepted by the customer. You must hold the project manager and the team responsible for proving the project has delivered. The project cannot close until you approve it.
After the project, you might be expected to help monitor and ensure the benefits have been realised well after the project team has been disbanded. Although it is possible you may not be directly responsible for the benefits; you should work with benefit owners to confirm the expected return on the project is achieved.
This post only briefly covers the role of the sponsor. Resources like the PMI White Paper and the APM Guide to Sponsorship give more information. Project sponsorship is a large a varied subject. As a project sponsor you are key to the project’s success.