A sad tale of a how a sponsor/PM relationship killed a project...
Exec identifies a need for a project and nominates self as sponsor. PM gets assigned to project and assembles project team. Sponsor is vague about problem to be solved other than "we need a new system". PM can't communicate problem to be solved to the team because he doesn't understand what the problem is. Sponsor continues to ask for more and more things to be included in project, PM doesn't have courage to say no. PM treats sponsor as "that person in the corner office" and doesn't know how to ask for help, so he escalates everything. Sponsor has to make some tough decisions but is unwilling to do so because of the political fallout. PM provides bad information about decision alternatives so sponsor ignores him. Due to changing priorities project no longer makes sense to do, but PM lobbies to keep the project going. Sponsor loses interest because there are bigger fish to fry. PM and team are disillusioned because sponsor doesn't care. Project dies a slow death. R.I.P.
While this is a fictional story, you can undoubtedly relate to most of these things happening on one project or another in your career. The sponsor/PM partnership on a project is one of those "soft skill" factors that gets frequently overlooked when assessing a PM's skills but is a key determinant in the success or failure of a project. Under a healthy partnership, the sponsor and PM work as a singular unit to ensure the project gets what it needs to be as successful as possible using only as many resources as absolutely necessary to secure success. Under a less than healthy relationship the project will undoubtedly cost more in time and money assuming it even gets completed at all.
Throughout my career I've been both a sponsor and a PM and have first-hand experience in how this relationship needs to work from both sides of the desk. Through my experience, I've locked down on ten truths which I feel are crucial to securing a healthy sponsor/PM partnership. See if these resonate with you:
Hal was a new leader over a team of six followers. He committed to his manager that he would be a “learning leader,” and read leadership books to improve his skills. Almost every month in team meetings Hal included a book report on his latest book and the leadership techniques he wanted to put into practice. At first the team was receptive, but after the first few books a pattern emerged. Hal would talk about what he learned and implement the new methods . . . until he read the newest book on his list, making the previous book’s approach yesterday’s news—pushed aside. The team grew exasperated with Hal’s technique du jour only to have it replaced with a newer model. Even worse, the theory stayed just that, theory. Hal evaluated himself based on his knowledge; the team evaluated him based on his actions. Hal ultimately lost his team leader role; all that theory never making its way to reality.
So check this out.
Recently I received an email from someone who found me on LinkedIn. The person wasn’t a connection of mine, so I had no idea who he was or where he worked.
Let’s go through some of the items on the email (indicated by red letters A-F) and how it influenced my impression of this person. I changed personally identifiable information and will call him John Doe.
As an individual contributor, Joe was praised by his management for his speed in delivering results. His management was so enamored with his ability to get things done quickly that he was promoted to a leader role over a team of ten. Joe’s speed in taking action carried over into his decision making. He saw making decisions fast as a sign of getting “real work done,” versus sitting around talking about things. “Great leaders don’t have all the facts,” he would say to his team, as justification for moving forward without a good understanding of a decision’s implications. Joe’s team learned to just say, “Yes, Sir,” and do their best to execute what Joe wanted done by the time expected. His impulsive decision making came to a head with a new hire named Greg.
As a young manager, I was involved in a significant crisis which had the attention of not only the partners in the firm but also its CEO. I, like many of my cohorts, was nervous about the crisis, its impact on our clients, and my employment status at the firm. There was a very senior partner who was tasked by the CEO to assume responsibility for navigating the firm through the crisis. It took us a year to work our way out of the crisis; and we all learned some valuable nuggets. I thought I was a good leader before the crisis. Now I realize how naïve I was in my assessing my leadership skills. That experience, while excruciatingly painful, was an inflection point in putting me on the path to becoming a better leader.
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