If there is one common theme shared by virtually all of the 17,000 people who have participated in our project management workshops, it is their relationship, or lack of, with their project sponsor.
The role of the project sponsor is critical in ensuring the success of business projects. Our research and experience has shown that the effectiveness of the project sponsor role is the single best predictor of project success or failure.
Simply, a project without the appropriate degree of executive sponsorship will fail. As a result, for a project manager the relationship that is build with their sponsor is the most critical relationship in a project.
Over the past 25 years of project management consulting and education, we have discovered a series of patterns and rules for developing and managing your relationship with the person undertaking the project sponsor role. We have confirmed the validity of these rules with many executives who have undertaken project sponsor roles. They work!
The 1st Rule out of 9 Rules to be developed, is based on ‘The bag of money and the baseball bat’ is the most important and the only rule that will be covered in this article.
The management of contemporary business projects involves many stakeholders and service providers. For the project manager, the need for a sponsor who can assist in the resolution of the inevitable conflicts that arise throughout the project is critical.
A simple example is in the area of project scope and objectives. It is likely that each of the represented stakeholders groups will see the scope and objectives of the project differently. The project team members, supported by the members of differing stakeholder groups, agree that the process and system documentation can be added after implementation and is therefore ‘out of scope’. However, internal audit and the system support groups strongly disagree with this position. Clearly, it is part of the project manager’s role to attempt to negotiate between these stakeholders and to attempt to find some resolution through compromise. However, should this fail, then the project manager must be able to escalate or ‘push back’ the problem to a person who can make a unilateral decision as to whether project documentation is ‘in’ or ‘out of scope’.
Here the ‘bag of money and the baseball bat’ test becomes relevant.
The ‘bag of money’ refers to the level of authorisation of spending available to the project sponsor. Simply, the larger the authorisation level for spending available to the sponsor, the more corporate power the sponsor has to wield. If the person appointed as the project sponsor is, in fact, paying for the project from his or her budget, they then would typically have the authority and authorisation to decide unilaterally whether project documentation was required or not.
However, should the person who has been allocated the sponsor role not have the appropriate level of financial authority and authorisation, then he or she would most likely ‘pass the buck’ either back to the project manager or alternatively pass it upwards to the person with the authority. Either action results in delays in resolution of the problem and delays to the project.
The ‘baseball bat’ refers to the level of organisational and political power available to the project sponsor. While, the ‘bag of money’ and the ‘baseball bat’ are often linked together, in many cases, there is a more complex relationship. For example, although the project sponsor may not have the financial authority, they may have the organisational authority.
While organisational authority typically is associated with the level of organisational position, the project sponsor may have additional organisational power through his or her use of allies, powerful mentors, personal charisma and so on. A ‘bright star’ may have more organisational power than other people at the same organisational level have. What is important here is your project sponsor’s ability to use his or her organisational power (i.e. their ‘baseball bat’) to assist you in resolving project conflicts.
The simple rule here is that the best sponsor is the one with the biggest bat and bag of money.
This inappropriate level of delegation would inevitably result in one of two results. At best, it would result in project delays, as the ‘sponsor’ would need to pass decisions upward to the person with the right level of authority and power. At worst, it would result in the problem being left for the project manager to solve. As many experienced project managers have found, attempts to solve boundary disputes without an effective power base typically results in the project becoming mired in a series of political battles between different stakeholder groups.
One thing we have learnt about senior executives is that they love using their ‘baseball bat’. All you have to do is to show them where to swing it.
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