“At the neck of the hourglass sits the
project sponsor and project manager,”
says David West, senior technical director,
WSP UK, a construction, engineering
and environmental management consul-
tancy in Swindon, England. In many
cases, “the project manager faces the bot-
tom half of the organization, orchestrat-
ing the input of all consultants, suppliers
and contractors. The project sponsor faces
the upper half of the hourglass, dealing
with all relevant departments of the client
organization and associated stakeholders.
The project sponsor is responsible for the
project business case, whereas the project
manager is usually responsible for deliver-
ing a project with defined outputs to a
timescale and budget.”
Together they bring the project to a
successful close and everyone lives hap-
pily ever after, right?
If only it were that simple. Not every
sponsor is created equal. And not every
project manager knows how to most
advantageously work with a sponsor.
The first step to building an effective
relationship between a project sponsor
and project manager is to understand
where one job ends and the other begins.
The sponsor is there to provide the
financial resources for the project and
champion it when it’s first conceived. That
means serving as a spokesperson to higher
management to get organizational support
as well as promoting the project’s benefits.
The sponsor should also help strategically direct the project, and provide
guidance and senior management support
to the project manager as needed, says
Štefan Ondek, PMP, managing partner
of POTIFOB (Projects on Time in Full
on Budget), a project management consultancy and training firm in Malinovo,
Slovakia. Project sponsors can also help
overcome obstacles and obtain the
resources, including human resources and
financial support, that project teams need.
We need to help
ect, failing to delegate responsibilities
to the project manager. To curb this
problem—and others down the road—
project managers need to ensure they
see eye-to-eye with the sponsor from the
start. That requires proper planning:
> Understand what the sponsor expects
in terms of value. “Each project should
have a clear business case that will allow
it to be aligned with the larger strategic
objectives of the company,” says Jessica
Janko Prior, PMP, a senior project manager
at athletic footwear and apparel company
New Balance, St. Louis, Missouri, USA.
> Develop a partnership agreement. This
written document can be a formal document that is part of the project charter or
a separate conversation between project
manager and sponsor. It should include the
roles and responsibilities of all project team
members, suggests Neil Love, coauthor of
The Project Sponsor Guide [PMI, 2000]. It
should also define what the sponsor needs
from the project manager and vice versa.
“A good starting point is for the
project manager to ask the sponsor what
really worked and didn’t on projects
from their past,” he says.
best practices and
why those processes
are for the benefit
of their project.
—Jessica Janko Prior, PMP,
New Balance, St. Louis, Missouri, USA
PLAN THE RELATIONSHIP
Some sponsors overstep their bounds,
however, and try to micromanage a proj-
> Take the hands-on approach. For project managers, that means asking sponsors
about their goals for the project. Understanding such details will improve the
sponsor’s confidence in you—a lesson Mr.
West learned early in his career while working as a project manager for the design and
construction of a new laboratory.
“After the initial meetings, I asked the
project sponsor, who was a pathologist,
to take me around the existing laboratory
and show me how it worked and what was
wrong with it,” says Mr. West, author of
Project Sponsorship: An Essential Guide for
Those Sponsoring Projects Within Their Organizations [Gower, 2010]. “Then I asked if he
could take me around what he considered
the finest, state-of-the-art laboratory. With
those tours I had a really good appreciation
of what was required of me that transcended
anything written in the project brief.