Who is Your Project Sponsor and Are they Happy?

The project sponsor is defined as “a senior executive in a corporation (often at or just below board level) who is responsible to the business for the success of the project.” In my interpretation, that may also be the key person on the customer side who cares and runs the project and meets with you weekly and may call you daily (or hourly).


Going beyond just the definition, here are some primary concerns and responsibilities of the project sponsor...

  • Owns the business case
  • Keeps project aligned with organization's strategy and portfolio direction
  • Focuses on realization of benefits
  • Recommends opportunities to optimize cost/benefits
  • Ensures continuity of sponsorship
  • Provides feedback and lessons learned


Going a step further, here are some key joint responsibilities of the project sponsor to the project manager assigned to lead the engagement...

  • Provides timely decisions
  • Clarifies and enables decision making
  • Clarifies business priorities and strategy
  • Communicates business issues
  • Provides necessary customer side resources
  • Manages relationships
  • Supports the project managers role


Now, what does the project manager do for the project sponsor? When considering overall project success, where does the project sponsor fit in? Is that person key, peripheral, or not a consideration? Ok, ok…that last one was an obvious one…the project manager who thinks that his project sponsor doesn’t fit into consideration on the overall success of the project probably hasn’t experienced very many project ‘successes.’


I have always maintained that there are three general determiners of project success. They are…in my opinion…

  • On time project delivery
  • On budget project delivery
  • Customer satisfaction


So, where does the project sponsor fit in to project success in my three bullets? That third bullet is entirely the project sponsor. Well, maybe not entirely… end users and subject matter experts (SMEs), other customer project team members, maybe even the customer-side CEO, all play a role in that overall customer satisfaction. However, remember our definition above from Wikipedia…the project sponsor is a senior executive who is responsible to the business for the success of the project. The straw that stirs the drink, so to say. Make that individual happy and you’ve probably made everyone on that side of the coin happy. Customer satisfaction begins and ends with the project sponsor.

The next question that begs to be asked then is, how do you do it? You can’t always bring a project in on time or on budget. In fact, those are somewhat rare occurrences in many organizations. So how do you do it when success in those other determining factors isn’t obvious or frequent? In fact, can you completely fail in those other two and still satisfy the customer? Yes. How?


I’ve always tried to put the customer first. Not all of my projects finish on time, that’s for sure. Not all finish on budget, though by continually monitoring the budget and managing scope – including the practical and timely issuance of change orders – most stay within about 10% of the project goal. But I try hard to focus on the customer and work with my team to meet their needs. And I primarily do this by sticking to best practices throughout the good and bad times of the engagement. My top seven are...

  • Taking issues and suggested solutions to the customer as soon as possible
  • Interfacing informally with the project customer/project sponsor
  • Conducting regular formal meetings with both project teams
  • Engaging the customer with my senior management to keep an open pipeline of information
  • Engaging the customer actively in issue resolution and task management
  • Keeping the customer informed every step of the way
  • Acting on customer/project sponsor requests and concerns as quickly as possible


Summary / call for input

The bottom line is to keep your customer informed in the good times and the bad, and never take for granted that they fully understand the situation or where the project stands. Realize that they have their own work to do so it’s the project manager’s job to ensure they are up to speed. The more engaged they are, the more confident they are in you and your team’s ability to deliver on the project…and the result is definitely a more satisfied customer…a more satisfied project sponsor.

Readers – what are your thoughts? What would you change about my list? And what about the sponsor focus? Please share your thoughts and discuss.



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