The project sponsor and client – OPEN

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Topic 2.3: The project sponsor and client

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The most important relationship the project manager has is with their project's sponsor.

There are a number of definitions and expectations of the project sponsor. Essentially, the sponsor is the person who authorises the release of project funds.

Note that the sponsor may not be the project manager’s day-to-day (business as usual) manager.

If, as a project manager, you don’t know who your sponsor is, then ask who do you go to first when you need more money or resources for your project?

OPEN 2 stakeholders 4-edit

A good project sponsor will also support you by:

Clarifying business priorities and strategy

Providing a clear decision-making framework (and making timely decisions)

Taking ownership of and responsibility for key stakeholder relationships, and

Encouraging and rewarding ethical conduct; after all this relationship will function best when it is built on trust.

Ideally the sponsor will also be an advocate for your project, lobbying for support among the broader stakeholder community.

For that reason, you will often hear the sponsor referred to as the project’s ‘champion’.

Other sponsor responsibilities include:
  • Strategic alignment

    As a senior executive in the organisation, the sponsor is well positioned to keep the project aligned with the organisation’s strategy, program and portfolio direction.

     

    This means primarily focusing on the realisation of outcomes (whereas the PM’s primary focus is on the delivery of outputs).

  • Risk appreciation

    The sponsor’s birds-eye view of the project also means that they may identify risks that the project manager may not be privy to or aware of.

     

    They will also authorise minor changes to keep the project on track.

  • Integrating operations

    The sponsor will work with business managers and the sponsors of other projects to ensure the optimal use of organisational resources.

     

    This is important, as the project manager often does not have the authority or political leverage to secure the necessary support.

  • Mediating conflict

    Occasionally the project manager will elevate conflicts to the sponsor to resolve.

     

    This may include conflicts that the project manager is a party to (meaning they may lack the objectivity necessary to resolve the situation), or conflicts ‘above their pay-grade’ among highly powerful or influential stakeholders.

  • Ensuring quality

    Along with the project manager, it is the responsibility of the sponsor to ensure that the organisation’s standards for the management of projects are consistently adhered to and met.

     

    The sponsor will also authorise the final handover of project deliverables to the client, as well as the ultimate closure of the project.

  • Sharing knowledge

    The sponsor should also take responsibility for ensuring client feedback and lessons learned are shared across the organisation.

     

    This ensures that delivery continually improves across the entire organisation.

The client is the person who requests, finances and ultimately accepts the project’s output(s).

Sometimes the sponsor will also be the client of the project.

This is especially true of internal projects; that is, projects that are commissioned by the organisation for their internal use.

In projects where the client is external to the organisation, the sponsor is usually a senior manager or executive with line authority over the project and its manager, such as a program manager.

The only time the client is the project manager is when they are spending their own money on the project (and self-reporting).

OPEN 2 stakeholders 5-edit

It is critical that clients (especially external clients) are kept engaged throughout the life of the project, especially when changes to scope are contemplated.

A remarkable number of projects fail because this obvious principle is ignored.