How to Engage Project Sponsors to Keep Projects on Track
One of the most difficult parts of the job for a new project manager is managing the relationships and expectations with senior executives and project sponsors.
This vital relationship should not be overlooked. In ‘Pulse of the Profession 2018‘, the Project Management Institute reports organizations with engaged sponsors report 40% more successful projects than those with a lower percentage of projects with sponsors (less than 50% of their projects). At BrightWork, we have also identified active project sponsorship as a critical project success factor.
Often, poor communication is the root cause of inadequate sponsorship engagement. For a variety of reasons, project updates are often inaccurate and not provided to them in a timely manner. As a result, sponsors and senior executives don’t participate in the project to the fullest extent possible.
It’s not that they don’t want to be helpful, as they have a vested interest in the successful delivery of the project. But when they don’t have a clear picture of the state of the project, it is hard to give quality feedback to provide guidance.
Don’t turn sponsors into roadblocks. With open and accurate communication, you can turn them into enablers who can help get a project back on track when they are needed.
The importance of open communication
It’s important that the project manager keeps executives and project sponsor up-to-date on the progress of a project, even when it’s all good news. This will help you build a relationship and rapport with the project sponsor. Having this kind of open communication and trust will make it easier to indicate to the sponsor the possibility of trouble as soon as it comes up, even it hasn’t happened yet.
“Sponsors don’t like bad news, but they hate bad news late”
When you are handed a project, you agree to deliver on a set of objectives and parameters. Your job as the project manager is to steer the project to deliver those – always planning and re-planning to meet objectives. However, one of those key parameters might go completely off the rails and cannot be controlled by re-planning (e.g. project will be delayed by 2 years, or will need 4x the resources, or will finish with half of the expected deliverables). Those issues must go to the sponsor at the first sign of trouble. Early warnings are best because if you wait too long it will be too late to do anything about it.
Status reports for project sponsors
You can use the acronym S-I-R:
- Status: Referring to the project goals.
- Issues: Problems that need to be sorted.
- Risks: Problems that might happens.
Project sponsors and senior executives are probably not too wrapped up in every detail of every project, but they should be able to access drill-down into the details when they need to.
Keep sponsors up-to-date with automated reporting
The easiest way to accomplish this is to use a collaborative project management tool like BrightWork.
By leveraging a collaborative project management solution, you can provide automated reports and dashboards to sponsors so they can quickly understand what’s happening with the project. Ideally, these project reports can be sent to stakeholders on a regular basis via scheduled email. For example, you might schedule a weekly update to the project sponsor every Friday with the weeks’ progress.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in July 2017 and has updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.