To be fair, this question is rarely phrased this way.
Mostly it’s posed as an angry statement by a project or program manager/director/leader who feels they’re being let down by a sponsor. They tell me how ‘their’ sponsor isn’t doing any number of things the teller expects of them.
Some of the things complained about include:
- no project charter
- not getting the right resources – or enough of them (money and people)
- not making decisions in a timely manner
- not ‘handling’ the politics
- not moving the roadblocks
- changing their mind too often
- not representing the project properly/effectively to people outside the project
- being too closely involved
- not being involved enough
- not understanding how hard it is
In the end, it boils down to the PM (insert preferred title here) not feeling supported or appreciated by the sponsor.
Let’s bring the conversation up a level.
What is a project/program sponsor?
To me, it’s crystal clear.
The project sponsor is the person who wants something achieved that can’t be achieved in the normal course of business. The person with the vision/dream/goal.
And, who has the willingness and ability to get support and resources.
The sponsor’s job in addition to wanting something done and getting the resources is to get the PM who will deliver it.
That sounds easy but it’s far from it.
There’s a spectrum of things that have to be done. The question for the sponsor is which do they want to do themselves and which do they want the PM to do?
The spectrum includes:
- working the politics
- promoting the project and its outcome
- defending the project against those who would see it fail
- protecting the budget and other resources
- reporting (at, and to, many levels)
- scheduling and tracking
- integration and the other key elements of the project
- people management
Once the sponsor decides what they want to do, and will do, for the project they can then get a PM who can do everything else.
I’ve worked on projects and programs where the sponsor wanted all comms to go through them but left the politics to the men. I’ve worked on projects where the sponsor did none of the things above and it was my role to make it all happen. I’ve also worked on projects where the sponsor did everything except the scheduling and tracking.
There’s no point in starting a project or program with firm ideas about what the other should do and then being miserable. Suss it out. Ask the questions at the start. And if the sponsor wants someone who can do things you can’t, be professional and make a dignified exit.