A number of articles have been written regarding the critical role of effective sponsorship to project success as well as the common challenges project managers face when working with sponsors, so when one of my project managers suggested (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) that the panacea might be to have project managers be the project sponsors for their projects, I felt this might be worth discussing!
If we use the Guide to the PMBOK’s definition, a project sp0nsor holds the purse strings. There are some obvious benefits if a project manager has full control over project financials (including the ability to increase expected spend) – worthwhile scope additions can be funded while no-value or “white elephant” pursuits can be halted. However, this power makes it difficult for a project manager to maintain a truly unbiased point-of-view when evaluating decisions or changes. On a typical project, a project manager has limited funding authority beyond an approved budget so they are forced to balance the impacts of decisions against all constraints equally.
A challenge I’ve previously written about is the power struggle between project managers and functional managers over assigned team members. While sponsorship might provide project managers with more leverage in such negotiations, for an organization that is changing from a functional to a balanced matrix power model, use of such leverage might backfire against future projects where the project managers are not wielding sponsorship control.
Although there is a distinction between the role of the sponsor and the business owner role, many times, the sponsor is also the individual that is responsible for achieving the expected business outcomes for a project. In such cases, although a combined project manager/project sponsor role might reduce the likelihood that the project manager becomes triple-constraint focused to the detriment of these expected outcomes, it also means that they could find themselves overloaded, especially as the project implementation phase nears its end and the emphasis on ensuring organization change readiness increases. This is analogous to the challenges with having a project manager also being responsible for producing deliverables for their projects – at some point, they might find multitasking between the roles is impossible such that one of the two sets of duties suffers.
Although it seems ideal, like matter and anti-matter, having a project manager also being the project sponsor could prove an explosive combination!