Project Planning For Project Sponsors: Why You Need To Be Involved

So you've just handed a project and a project manager and told that you're going to be a project sponsor.

Oh, joy!

And of course, you really do not know what a project sponsor is and what they do. So now, you have to figure out your role in the project.

Or maybe you're a hand-off type of project sponsor and your new project manager has started asking you to be involved. So now, you're wondering why you should be bothered. And you're probably resenting the time commitment you are being asked to provide.

In other words – why should you be involved?

In this article, I'm going to discuss that very question. Why should the project sponsor be involved in the project planning process? And how much involvement is actually required?

First of all, you need to understand your role in the project governance process. There are three major players and one minor player at the project planning table. Management needs to be represented because they own the project. It's theirs. They pay for it. They're responsible for it. The second major player is the customer. They're the ones most affected by the project. They determine the requirements. The third major player is the supplier. These are the individuals or department representatives who will actually be delivering the project. The fourth player is seldom represented directly. These are the non-customer stakeholders. These are the people who will be affected by the project.

Three groups represent management for the project: the sponsor, the steering committee and the project manager. The steering committee is an approvals group. Their responsibility is to review the progress of the project and to approve major changes. The sponsor is the manager given the responsibility for the project. They own the project. However, they are typically very busy executives. And typically, they manage operations or operate at the strategic level. So they are given an avatar to deal with daily issues. This is the project manager – a specialist in managing projects rather than operations or strategy.

In short, the sponsor is the owner of the project.

The sponsor will be extremely responsible for the project. Your duties as sponsor, including assigning the players, approving changes (or forwarding them to the steering committee), communicating upwards and to the steering committee, and providing political support.

The first and last duties are the most important during the planning stage of the project.

Your first responsibility is going to be to assign your representative and give them their marching orders. You need to give them the information they are going to need to succeed. They need to know the why of the project, the limits of the project, the purpose of the project and the criteria for success. In short, although the project manager may produce the physical charter, you are the one writing it.

Your next responsibility is to assign his or her project team. Typically, this is done in two stages. The first is an informal assignment – usually by the individual's regular manager. The second stage consists of a kick-off meeting for the project team. Your responsibility is to expand on the assignment. Basically, you need to repeat the charter for the team members. In most cases, you'll actually just support your project manager while they do the presentation of the charter. However, only you can communicate the level of support that management is prepared to give the project.

The importance of the third responsibility can not be overestimated. Your responsibility is to politically support your project manager. Typically, a project manager has little or no authority on their own. People being what they are, there will almost always be one or two team members who want to dominate the show. You need to lend your authority to your representative – the project manager. By doing so during the planning process, you can help to avoid later issues.