How do you engage and work with the project sponsor?

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

How do you engage and work with the project sponsor?

Imagine you’ve been assigned to a work on a big project, or perhaps the new initiative is your baby. In either case, you will probably need the full support of a project sponsor.

What is a project sponsor? This succinct definition comes from a blog post written by Lynda Bourne.  “Your project sponsor is the key link between the project management team and the organization’s executive management. An effective sponsor “owns” the project and has the ultimate responsibility for seeing that the intended benefits are realized to create the value forecast in the business case.”

In short, this person is key to your success.

First, assess the quality of your relationship with this person. Does she know you? Trust you? What does he think of people in your department — or people who do what you do for a living?

If the sponsor doesn’t know you or trust you or care much for who you represent, then you must begin by starting to establish a sound working relationship. (You might want to read about the three levels of support and resistance I identified: Resistance to Change: Why It Matters and What to Do About It.)

How do you do this?

Unless you already engage in some social activities with this person, forget about the golf game and other old sales tactics meant to loosen people up so they will buy from you. You will only come across as someone who wants them to buy from you – and no one likes that. You run the risk of increasing any suspicion they may already have.

Focus on the project itself.

Start with the big picture.

What does he or she want from this project? Find out what her picture of success looks like.

Find out what might concern him about this project? For instance, he believes that it might eat up precious resources, that the timing is all wrong, that your group won’t give the project the attention it deserves. Your main task during this activity is to shut up and listen. (Not easy for some of us to do. But try it, it will build character.)

Ask how he would prefer you communicate with him: phone, text, e-mail, face-to-face? And how frequently.

If you get any inkling of concern or distrust during the conversation, then over the next two weeks you must visibly demonstrate that she can trust you. If you promised to get something to her on Wednesday, get it to her on Monday. If you can see that he gets bored with lots of details or slide shows, then avoid long documents and slides at all costs. Make sure you are succinct and what you offer grabs his attention. No fluff. No over-communicating. But make sure that what you promise, what you do, and how you communicate is likely to demonstrate that the project manager can trust you.

You’ll notice that I didn’t talk about discussion of the budget, Gantt charts, etc. That will come. You must build trust first.

I wish you well.

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