Nothing will slow down the execution of your project than a dis-engaged sponsor. Active sponsorship is vital to the health of your project, if for nothing else, it keeps your customer team engaged, keeps decisions flowing as needed and provides overall support and guidance for your project. Here are some tips on how to keep your sponsor engaged through the life of your project.
Provide Concise, Relevant Communications
Your typical project sponsor is likely someone who has a lot on their plate in addition to this project and as such, usually cannot dedicate a lot of time towards it. One of the biggest favors you can do for your project sponsor is to provide direct and concise communications, either as informational or for an action needed on their part (and call out what you need!). If you send your project sponsor a two-page email forward with the letters “FYI” at the top of it, there is a strong likelihood that message will not be read and you will have somewhat devalued yourself in the eyes of the sponsor when it comes to sending communications. Be concise – tell your sponsor what you need from them; Be relevant – make sure the communication is something they have a vested interest in knowing.
Keep Your Sponsor Accountable
Often times I have worked with project sponsors who in meetings will take an action item (likely for a decision of some kind) and then blow past the expected completion date at the detriment of your project. A mistake I often see, usually with more junior project managers, is to not call the sponsor out for missing a deadline and just let it come when it comes. As a project manager, you are accountable for the project schedule and while it may be ironic that the project sponsor (your indirect boss on the project) is the source of a delay for which they will hold you accountable for, it’s vital that the project manager ensure that any actions owned by the project sponsor are delivered on time or at the very least followed up on to ensure constant movement. Projects are all about partnerships and relationships, keeping your project sponsor as accountable as any other team member is a good thing.
Establish Project Controls
At the outset of your project it’s always good to set boundaries and project controls to give you the leverage needed to keep inattentive sponsors accountable. Building provisions into your contract that allow for the project team to charge for any cost overruns incurred from late decisions or feedback needed from your project sponsor (or anyone on the customer project team) can be a very effective tool in ensuring that your project team is not slowed down by customer delays (and as such, held accountable for such delays). One effective tool is to ensure that your contract has a clause where when asking for a decision, approval or feedback from the customer, that the customer has X days (between five and 10 days is common) to provide the needed feedback/decision/approval or is subject to a change order for any potential cost overruns resulting from delays.
A healthy project manager/project sponsor relationship is vital to the success of the project but as with any relationship, both sides need to work together and follow through on commitments. By keeping your sponsor engaged and accountable you will ensure that your team is not held up by pending decisions or approvals that are the typical deliverables that your project sponsor will bring to the table.