A tip of my porkpie hat to one of my team members for handing me the title for this week’s article – thanks A.D. for providing me with a superior alternative to the not-so-original “The Five Dysfynctions of a Sponsor“!
The Guide to the PMBOK (4th edition) defines a sponsor as “The person or group that provides the financial resources, in cash or in kind, for the project.” In practice, a sponsor is often expected to do more than just hold the purse strings and may be repsonsible for such critical activities as timely decision making or by helping to remove hurdles that the project manager and team can’t handle themselves.
I’ve written before about some of the challenging super-villains that project managers face but based purely on the volume of issues raised, I’d consider bad sponsors as being the Lex Luthors of the project management universe!
Here are a few of the more common variants:
- The Teflon Sponsor – Nothing sticks to them (accountability-wise), and worse, they stick to nothing – decisions, commitments…
- The Invisible Sponsor – You saw them when you were first assigned to the project, but subsequently, every time you try to locate them to solicit their assistance, they are nowhere to be found
- The Helicopter Sponsor – A close relative of the Invisible Sponsor, they are mostly absent, but will land from time-to-time to spout unwanted and unhelpful wisdom to the project team
- The “Big Brother is watching YOU” Sponsor – Instead of running interference for the project team and championing the cause of the project, this sponsor confuses and demoralizes the team by marginalizing the role of the project manager through micro-management
- The Machiavellian Sponsor – This type of sponsor appears to be working towards the project and organization’s best interests, but it eventually becomes apparent that they are just working to further their own agenda at the cost of the project team or company
While project managers rarely have formal authority (let alone special powers!), the skills they should possess to address such behaviors are risk management, communication acumen and stakeholder analysis.
Leveraging feedback from colleagues who have worked with a given sponsor in the past and by holding one or two meetings with the sponsor at the onset of a project it should be possible to identify if you are facing one of the challenges I’ve listed above, and if so, you should leverage another project management skill, expectation setting, to try to proactively avoid issues. Failing that, if you have identified their weakness, then turn it into a strength by using their “poor” behavior to help further your project.