A Sponsorship Report Card

By Bob McGannon, PMP

You have been assigned a high profile project that will involve significant technical and business process changes across your company. It appears that you have adequate initial budget to prepare preliminary plans for the project. You have access to a small team that brings the right talent to your effort – and a sponsor has been named for the project. This is a good start, but one vital piece of homework remains – you need to complete a report card on your sponsor. Like all report cards, passing grades on required classes are mandatory – and an overall grade point average is something to which we must pay attention.

Control of Financial Decisions

You sponsor needs to directly control the budget for the project or needs to have delegated control over the finances you need to tap in order to run the project and appropriately plan, develop, test, and implement the product(s) of your project. Your sponsor gets an “A” (4.0) if she or he holds the checkbook themselves, a “B” (3.0) is the grade for someone who has received delegated responsibility to manage the finances for the project. For each person your sponsor needs to brief to get authority to allocate money to the project drops the sponsor’s grade by one point.

Understanding of Business Processes Affected by the Project

This is a vital knowledge area for a sponsor because the changes brought about by your project are likely to change business processes, creating a need for new interfaces, new procedures and necessitates significant training for impacted staff members. A sponsor who does not understand or grasp these requirements could be problematic, at best.

Grading your sponsor is largely a judgment call in this area – however a grade of at least a “B” is probably deserved if the sponsor takes time to review high level process models and poses questions. Should your sponsor actually suggest changes to the process models, or points out exceptions, then an “A” is in order.

Management of Required Resources

A sponsor who is in the direct reporting structure of the resources you need and communicates the relative priority of your project versus other activities in the business portfolio gets an “A”. This grade is valid even if your project isn’t at the top of the priority list. The very same priority placement that might cause you to wait for resources is the same one that can be used to discuss scheduling changes with the sponsor based on resource availability. Give your sponsor a “B” if they are in the direct reporting structure of your required resources, but do not have or communicate a priority scheme for the organization.
Should critical resources you need report to a manager that is not in your sponsors “chain of command” than the best grade your sponsor can get for this area is a “C”. If the sponsor does not have a good relationship with the manager who controls resources, a “D” or “F” in this area is the appropriate result.

Relationship to Project Customers

Projects impact businesses, both inside and outside of the sponsoring organization. Whether we are talking about end users within a business or dollar paying customers outside of the sponsoring organization, how a sponsor is perceived and what control a sponsor has over that group is pivotal. An assessment should be made of the effectiveness of the relationship your sponsor has with end users within the company. If the customer for your project deliverables consists of stakeholders outside of your company – real dollar paying customers – than the ideal sponsor will have responsibility for the product marketing or customer relationship. Give your sponsor an “A” is they have a good relationship with end users and control the customer marketing plan for your organization. For each level of management or number of managers your sponsor has to gain acceptance from to implement a project initiative, drop one letter grade. If the sponsor does not understand the impact your project will have on end users or customers, grade your sponsor a “D” or “F”.

Time Dedicated to Project Sponsorship

Good grades on all of the preceding topic areas are great, but become useless if the sponsor doesn’t allocate any time to support you with REAL sponsorship other than holding the title. Give your sponsor an “A’ if they request regular status meetings or if they willingly open their calendar for status meetings upon your request. The sponsor gets a “B’ if they delegate to a capable person, who is then empowered to help on a regular basis and/or if they describe the situations in detail in which they want to be involved. The sponsor gets a “C” if they ask to be updated via email and only want a visit “if there is an issue.” “D” is the appropriate grade if they delegate without empowering their replacement and the sponsor gets an “F” if they are unresponsive to your requests for time and/or decision making.

What GPA is acceptable?

As project managers, we’d all love to have our sponsors get “Straight A’s” – however that rarely happens. Also, knowing how your sponsor will actually perform during the course of a project can sometimes be a bit like reading a crystal ball.” However, preliminary conversations with a sponsor during project initiation are usually very telling. Between that conversation and doing your homework on how this person has performed in the past as a sponsor, the diligent project manager can usually complete this report card with a fair degree of accuracy.

So what is “good enough”? Using this quick grading system, an overall GPA of “3.0-B” or better usually will be workable for a good project manager. However, please note that your sponsor should not be assigned a GPA higher than what is assigned to the “Time Dedicated to Project Sponsorship” area. As stated earlier, all the good traits and positioning within the organization become useless if the sponsor won’t spend time as a sponsor.

What if My Sponsor Doesn’t Make the Grade?

It would be a “career limiting” approach to go to your sponsor’s office and tell them they failed and you want another sponsor!!! However, what the astute project manager will do is just that, but in a well thought out and tactful manner. By discussing different potential issues and how they might be resolved via an “informal sponsorship committee” a workable solution can be reached. Although usually not as advantageous as a single “A or B grade sponsor”, it is better than settling for a “C” or worse sponsorship situation. Here is an example of how creating this informal sponsorship committee might be done. Let’s say your sponsor lacks the financial control you deem necessary for your project. You might engage the sponsor in a discussion early on in the initiation phase of the project and ask ‘What process should we go through if we find we need additional funding for the project?” Through the resulting discussion, if the sponsor refers to another manager who “holds the checkbook” the project manager can ask “How would or could we get that person involved in the project?” The answer to that question will give the project manager direction as to how to communicate with and engage the checkbook holding manager – thus creating the process for running an informal sponsorship committee. This approach can be used for any area where your sponsor doesn’t get a good grade.

Appropriate sponsorship is a vital piece of successful project management – take a proactive role in ensuring your sponsorship will suit the needs of the project. It will make your life a lot easier and in the long run it will help your sponsor as well!

Bob McGannon is a Founder and Principal of MINDAVATION, a company providing project management training and consulting, leadership workshops and team building programs throughout North America. Bob can be reached at MINDAVATION via the web at WWW.MINDAVATION.COM or by calling 866-888-MIND (6463).


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