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If It Ain't Baroque...

800pxhamptoncurtThis past summer's London vacation included a day trip to the Palace at Hampton Court.  Of the castles and royal palaces we visited, this one truly had some of the juiciest history associated with it.  Besides all of the antics of Henry VIII, I found the co-reign of William III and Mary II's impact on the royal residence to be most fascinating.  When they took the throne, they decided to do an exteme makeover on the palace in the Baroque Style (after all, what royal wants to be seen tooling around in a Tudor Coop?).  So they hired Christopher Wren to take the wrecking ball to Henry's Tudor-architectured palace.  However, before they could undo all the structures, Mary died and William lost interest in the project.  Rumor also has it that they ran out of money.

Hmmm... sound familiar?  Not like any of our project sponsors have ever evaporated before the project is complete, leaving us holding the bag of our unfinished project scope.  I just finished reading a fun post by consultant Sean Dickinson on the Accidental Project Sponsor.  What a great read!  Project managers are often referred to as the "accidental profession" but from my experience, sponsors can be even more accidental... and cause more accidents.

Many project managers do not realize it, but they can have a voice in the selection of their project sponsor if they are brought into the project early enough in the life cycle.  Some questions to ask when selecting if the executive is "sponsor material" include:

  1. Does the executive understand the project?  Not necessarily at a technical nuts-and-bolts level, but they can articulate a compelling elevator speech to other executives.
  2. Is the executive passionate about the project?  What is their level of excitement for ensuring that you are successful in bringing this project to completion?  Do they have some skin in the game?
  3. Will the executive be around for a while?  Is their role as sponsor just a transition point for them as they move onto bigger and better things?  Many executives start "pet projects" and leave them hanging after the next promotion.
  4. Is the executive at the right level to be a sponsor?  The last thing you need is a sponsor who constantly has to go ask permission from his or her boss to make decisions that should belong to him or her.  If they are not at the right level to be the final point of accountability, find somebody else.
  5. As Sean points out, does the sponsor understand the difference between project and operational environments?  Each requires a different mindset and attention span.

Today, Hampton Court is a thriving testament to British architecture, but it has taken generations of monarchs to bring it to its full glory.  Of course, when your project sponsor wears the title "King" or "Queen," the project team tends to pay a little closer attention to detail.  What are you doing to manage upward to ensure the best from your project sponsor?


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Bob Donaldson

Great illustration! I'm sure I have experienced all five of the shortcomings you mention. I would add that this is even more important if you are taking over a half-complete project than it is at the beginning. In addition to all the issues you mentioned, the sponsor may be shy of being left 'holding the bag'.

Timothy Johnson

Thanks, Bob. Great thought addition. The sponsor role is so critical to project success, yet we leave our executives ill prepared to assume the role.

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