How to train your project sponsor

Unfortunately you might not be able to choose someone as your project sponsor who meets all the criteria of a good project sponsor – that is, if you have the luxury of being able to choose at all. Most likely you’ll just get lumped with someone and you’ll have to do your best to work with them. People in the role of sponsor also suffer from having many different demands on their time and your project may not be on top of their list. If they don’t know what it is they have to do, you can be sure they won’t be able to make the time to find out. You have to be there to help them discover what being a sponsor means and to explain what you expect from them.

Some organizations use sponsor training and expect all their senior executives to attend. Where formal training is not available, or if it has been a while since your sponsor attended something like that, it falls to you to offer some guidance. The beginning of the project is normally the best time to introduce a sponsor to their role. Try to find out what experience they have had, what went well and what they found difficult about sponsoring previous projects, but be warned that senior managers may not be willing to share their experiences with you. You can still approach the subject tactfully: ‘I know you’ve already sponsored loads of projects but as we haven’t worked together before I just wanted to explain to you how I see your role as the project sponsor, and then we can establish how best we can work together.’ Use the sponsor FAQ (or make up your own) as a starting point for discussion.

A sponsor may also need ‘training’ in the more technical elements of the project. As the work continues you will soon become an expert in the intricacies of what it is your project is delivering, but you cannot expect them to understand the details or the jargon. Present your project updates with clarity, keep the use of jargon to a minimum, ask open questions to test their understanding and give them the opportunity to ask you questions too.

The key thing to remember is that you shouldn’t automatically assume your sponsor knows how to carry out their role effectively. Find out and explain what you expect from them. Good luck!

That’s the last of the three articles on project sponsors!

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