Project Planning Tips: 5 Tips For Project Sponsors

When you hire a specialist, it makes sense to get the most benefit you can from them. Especially when those specialists are being asked to change your company to better match the future.

Projects exist to change your company. They can be strategic in nature. Their focus can be on moving the company from where it is to where it needs to be. Or they can be operational and focused on enhancing and retaining value in an asset.

A specialist manager called a project manager leads projects. Yes, I did say specialist. However, unlike the rest of the specialists on the team, their specialty is building, managing and disbanding cross-functional teams. Their specialty is in building a team across the silos within your organization.

A single individual can accomplish some simple projects. But a project of any size will often require teams made up of people from different areas of your business. Their nature involves building a team across the silos.

As sponsor, you are a key member of the team. Your involvement can help the project manager to accomplish his or her task. Or it can make the task impossible to accomplish. You can smooth the waters or stir-up trouble. Here are 5 tips to help you be a better project sponsor and participate in the management of the project:

1. Be sure your project manager understands what you want
Projects are unique. That’s one of the characteristics that define them. That’s what makes them so difficult to accomplish. That’s what makes them so likely to fail. One of your key duties as project sponsor is to ensure that your project manager understands what you expect. Not only does your project manager need to know what is to be done. But they also need to know what is important to you and how they will be judged successful.
2. Support Your Project
You’re busy. Your project manager gets that. However, project managers seldom have authority on their own. They need to borrow your authority. There are key points where you must not only support your project but you must be seen to support the project. One of those key points is in the planning process. Especially in the initial meeting for planning.
3. Projects Are Not Operations
Why can’t you just use one of your operations managers to manage your project? Why use a specialist? The answer is that managing a project requires different skills and a different attitude than operations. That extends to you as well. For example, most operations departments spend to a limit. That limit could be budget based or output based. If you want to restrict your spending in a certain area — or challenge the manager –, you simply reduce the budget by 5%. However, projects have an inflexible, four-way chain of constraint involving time, cost, quality and scope. Reducing costs by 10% means that you need to increase time or reduce the scope of the project. Arbitrary reductions typically have unexpectedly severe results.
4. Support Your Project Manager
Your project manager is a key element in your project warning system. Projects fail. Failure can be minor, major or critical. It’s part of what projects are. Failure is inevitable. It’s what a person does when failure occurs that matters. Your project manager needs to trust you in order to share when a failure is near. And they need to know that you will help them take the necessary steps to minimize the effect. That trust begins during the planning process when the team is forming.
5. It’s Your Project
Ultimately, you as project sponsor need to recognize that you own the project. Your project manager is there as your representative. They are your avatar on the project. They give you the freedom to focus on more important and less day-to-day management tasks. But it’s still your project. You need to know what is happening. You need to be involved. Because the responsibility for the project is yours.

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