Picking the “right” sponsors, steering committee members and stakeholders

Three roles that are present on medium to large projects are the project sponsor, stakeholders and steering committees.  Using the Guide to the PMBOK  (for at least two of them that are defined within it), you’d think it would be fairly easy to identify who should play what roles, but for many projects the waters are a lot murkier.

Here is an approach that could be used in those situations where a governance structure is not obvious.

  1. Identify stakeholders
  2. Select a suitable sponsor (or sponsors) from the list of stakeholders
  3. Decide whether there is sufficient rationale for establishing a steering committee and work with the sponsor to pick its members from the list of remaining stakeholders or from the leadership layer above the sponsor(s).

There has been enough written about stakeholder identification and analysis, so there should be no need to elaborate on that activity.

The traditional view of a sponsor is the person or group that provides the funding and who authorizes the existence of the project through the issuance of the project charter.  However, sometimes funding does not come from the sponsor, especially if the project is serving the needs of multiple functional areas.  In such situations, the sponsor can be the stakeholder that has the most political visibility, influence and capacity to be an effective champion for the project.

On enterprise-level projects, if a single sponsor cannot effectively champion it for the full organization, it is advisable to have this role shared by a small group of stakeholders.  The caveat with this approach is that the balancing benefits of a sponsor group are offset by the risks of dilution by committee.

It is critical to ensure a good working relationship between the project manager and sponsor – some conflict or difference of opinion is healthy but if the two roles are constantly at odds, the project will suffer.  Before finalizing decisions on either role, the current working relationship between the two should be evaluated to increase the odds of success.

On smaller projects, decision-making authority could solely reside with the sponsor.  But on larger projects or those that have broad cross-functional implications, vesting too much authority with one individual might not be advisable hence a steering committee might make sense.  Also, on those projects that have a sponsors group, a steering committee can address those situations where the sponsors are deadlocked or can make decisions that are above or outside the authority-level of the sponsors.

The steering committee is expected to be a decision-making body and not just a group of stakeholders who need to be kept in the loop.  The focus should be on picking the bare minimum set of stakeholders who possess formal authority over the project while at the same time ensuring that individual (or departmental) biases will not skew decision making.  On projects involving multiple organizations, the steering committee should ideally have balanced representation from each organization.

When due diligence is not used when defining project governance, the project is as much at risk as if the project team is poorly resourced.


Categories: Governance, Project Management | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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