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What’s Up With the Project Sponsor? Part II

A Mini Case Study: What the Project Manager Did

Read Part I of the case study for background information.

Often we assume that the project sponsor understands exactly what the role of a sponsor is on the project. But that is a bad assumption to make. In our case study, the sponsor, Jason, understood his role to ensure that the budget was secured for the project and that the project manager, Alexander, had the resources he needed (tools, technology and people) to get the project completed. Jason is now surprised to hear that he is expected to intervene in getting information from uncooperative key stakeholders.

Here is where Alexander went wrong. In the very beginning of the project – 6 months ago – he met with his project team members to kick off the project (in person meeting) and discussed the project in detail including roles and responsibilities on the project, how information would be passed back and forth and how they would work together as a team. Alexander did not invite Jason to the meeting nor did Jason ask to attend. What a missed opportunity! Had Alexander invited Jason he could have had Jason talk about the initiative and the importance of the project to the company. And he could have established a stronger relationship with Jason and talked with him about what he needed on the project in the way of sponsorship support to ensure it is a success.

And here is what the project manager did…

Alexander arranged for a face-to-face meeting with Jason when he was back in town. He discussed with Jason that he needed support on the project – he didn’t need him to lead the project for him. But, his support needed to come in helping to engage those key stakeholders who did not want to participate in the project. Since Jason was at the same level (upper management) as the key stakeholders, he can help to influence them much more easily than Alexander could. He also explained to Jason that moving forward with input from only 7 of the 15 was very risky overall and would likely cause ultimate project failure as the project would not meet the needs of the stakeholders. Alexander outlined for Jason exactly what he has done to try to get requirements from the 8 stakeholders who are disengaged, including:

  • Offering to meet one-on-one, early morning or end of day
  • Offering to arrange for multiple phone calls to capture the information, at any time of the day or evening
  • Providing a starting point of what is possible/not possible with the project to help move along their “thinking” (they can then respond to the questions/points made via email or he would call them to capture their responses)
  • Outline for the stakeholders what Alexander believes the requirements would be based on his knowledge of their departments/regions/divisions and asking them to “react” to the information

So it is not as if Alexander has done nothing; he has tried a number of different approaches to gather the information from the key stakeholders. He needs Jason to intervene at this point since Jason will have more “pull” with the stakeholders as they are peers.

Alexander also discussed where else he might possibly need Jason’s support, including:

  • Reviewing and approving any changes to the schedule and budget that are beyond Alexander’s authority as the project manager
  • Assisting in managing expectations of stakeholders and providing insight into key stakeholders
  • Helping to solve problems that must be solved at an executive level and get decisions made

After their conversation, Jason has a better understanding of his role on the project and he promised to immediately reach out to the 8 key stakeholders and ask them to contribute to the requirements gathering process, highlighting (based on what Alexander told him) the risk to the project (and the bottom line of the company!) if they can’t make the time. And Alexander’s lesson learned – have this conversation with the project sponsor early on in the project!

Related articles:

How Project Sponsors Can Help New Project Managers
5 Ways to Engage the Project Sponsor
The Project Sponsor Just Doesn’t Care
Hey Project Sponsor – We Need Your Help Please!

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