The Definitive Guide to Project Sponsorship | Wrike
The Definitive Guide to Project Sponsorship

Project sponsorship is a vital part of any project, but it often doesn't get as much attention as it deserves. Sponsors ensure projects are on track, on budget, and out of the danger zone — meaning they need to be available to help managers and teams make challenging decisions quickly. 

Project sponsorship requires collaboration between all parties — the project sponsor, project managers, teams, and stakeholders. An intuitive, collaborative project management tool like Wrike keeps everyone aligned, tracks progress, and allows varying levels of visibility for stakeholders to stay informed about metrics, trends, and other critical factors throughout the project duration. 

What is a project sponsor?

A project sponsor is similar to a sports team or event sponsor. They own the project and make crucial decisions throughout its process and life cycle. A project sponsor is usually someone on a client's team who acts as a point person and middleman between both organizations. It's their job to understand and communicate the project goals to other stakeholders and seek buy-in when needed. 

Project sponsors make decisions on how managers should communicate project updates and reports. If you don't provide easy and effective ways to communicate with them, deadlines and expectations may fall to the wayside, leading to eventual project failure. 

To smooth the project sponsorship process, create a reporting template to streamline and organize project reporting for easy access and retrieval for everyone involved. 

What are the benefits of having a project sponsor?

You can count on project sponsors to make critical decisions, offer insights into a client's vision, and assist in solving problems as needed throughout a project. A few other benefits of project sponsorship include:

Clearer communication between client and team

A project sponsor serves as a liaison between your team and client, which means there is someone to speak on behalf of both parties. With a go-between, you don't have to worry about having two sides who don't understand each other. This results in more productive meetings, faster resolutions to problems, and less time spent building the wrong solutions. 

Saves time

When a project sponsor is assigned to a project, they review the project plan, progress reports, and risk analysis. They track deliverables throughout a project life cycle to ensure everything stays in order. This allows project managers to focus on getting things done, saving time and effort spent overseeing every aspect of an ongoing project. 

A clear point of contact

When project managers are trying to communicate with a client, it's not always clear who to contact or follow up with. With project sponsors, there's a direct line of communication with the project managers and other project stakeholders. Project managers know who to share their updates and reports with. A good project sponsor proactively checks on progress and represents the interests of the project team and manager. 

How do you get a project sponsor?

Every assignment has at least one sponsor, whether they know it or not. The key is to identify who the sponsor is on every new project. Doing so will help define their role, streamline communication, and hold everyone accountable throughout the collaboration. 

Having a single project sponsor makes it easy to consolidate information and speed up decision-making. Having more than one project sponsor, on the other hand, may cause a "too many cooks in the kitchen" scenario. 

When you start the project sponsorship conversation with your client, be sure to have one or two of your top choices from their team in mind. Include engaged, trustworthy, and communicative people you and your team already have a good rapport with. 

Ideally, they'd have a clear understanding of how you work and what your projects usually entail. Consider how their expertise in the project can benefit everyone involved. 

Even if a client has already picked out their sponsor, it's good to communicate these details before the project kickoff meeting just in case. Even if they don't go with your top choice, you now know who else will be a great asset to the project as a whole.

What is a project sponsor role on the project?

A project sponsor's role is to have a clear vision, oversee the work process, and track progress. They attend all relevant meetings, check in on important updates through their project management dashboard, and approve necessary changes as they come up. 

Before a project begins, a great project sponsor double-checks timeline and budget details. They also make sure the project proposal aligns with their own strategy and expectations. They're in charge of establishing key performance metrics (KPIs) and other big-picture concerns. 

A sponsor should keep up with daily progress, field questions, and resolve issues as they arise during a project. They may help bring in new team members from their company or reconfigure the project timeline and tasks as needed. While they don't take on hands-on project work, they oversee everything. 

After a project is over, it's up to the project sponsor to affirm whether or not the goals were achieved. They help with post-project evaluations and sign off on the finished product.

The Definitive Guide to Project Sponsorship 2
Photo by airfocus on Unsplash

How to get effective project sponsor support

Project sponsors hold overall authority over a project, including budgets and other essential resources. As such, they have the power to help a project succeed, but can also stifle its progress if they're not fully invested in seeing it do well. 

To get effective sponsor support, you must approach your sponsor with solid information about your goals and reasons why the project is worth their time and resources. Emphasize a strong understanding of their needs in regard to your project. Persuasive steps you can take to get them on your side include:

Incentivizing them with gains

According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), project failure costs businesses $109 million for every $1 billion invested. Share these statistics with executives and potential sponsors to convince them of the importance of their participation in the project's progress. Break down the numbers to the last dollars and cents.

Clarifying the project sponsor roles and responsibilities

Convince sponsors to be active members of the project leadership, not passive observers of the project manager's efforts and results. If they're new to the role, your project sponsor may not fully realize what's expected of them or their relationship with you as the project manager. Share your needs and systems, if any. If a sponsor doesn't understand their role, there's no way they can fulfill it successfully. 

As the author of the book “Strategies for Project Sponsorship,” Ron Rosenhead, explains, the project sponsor's job is to monitor progress, help resolve issues, and champion the project to other executives. They are to be the link between the project manager and other stakeholders. 

Good sponsors smooth the way for timely decisions and access to resources so project managers can run the day-to-day operations of their projects without hitting a wall or seeking approval at every turn. Sponsors maintain objectivity, keeping in mind how the project fits into the larger business goals of the client and development team. 

Establishing good communication and meeting regularly

Good communication and regular meetings are critical to fostering productive project sponsor-to-project manager relationships. Whether weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly, you should set a meeting schedule at the start of the project. 

In the first meeting, discuss your goals for the project and what each stakeholder needs to meet those goals. You can use this project sponsorship checklist to guide discussions and clarify expectations. Ensure you tackle all critical issues, including contracts, deadlines, and third-party collaborators.

Gathering organizational support for project sponsors

According to this project management survey, 85% of organizations said they have project sponsors. However, 83% admitted they do nothing to support, train, or guide these sponsors. The result is project sponsors in name only — sponsors who are unclear about how important they are to project success and how best they can contribute. 

Unlike project managers, there are few resources to support new project sponsors in learning the best practices of their role. Good project sponsorship must be a priority across the entire organization, including ongoing training and a proactive approach to sharing best practices and lessons learned

As a manager, highlight project sponsors' contributions when reporting on project success and emphasize how developing good project sponsorship practices is in the organization's best interest.

How to deal with a difficult project sponsor

Having a project sponsor brings many benefits, but it can become a nightmare to deal with one who is difficult. If you find yourself working with a sponsor who doesn't understand or align with the project, take the steps below to gain their trust. 

Adapt to their communication methods

Understand how best to reach your sponsor. Do they prefer in-person meetings? Are they available only on certain days?

Establish a communication protocol to collaborate better with your project sponsor. At its most basic level, a project management communication protocol is a set of guidelines on how to interact and behave within your team.

Emphasize their impact on project success

Emphasize how much their contributions drive the project. Appeal to their accountability by pointing out the crucial and impactful role and authority they hold over the entire project. Find areas where you can align their goals with the project's aims, creating more motivation for them to commit.  

Understand the sponsor's perspective

Understanding your sponsor's vision is crucial, but many project managers do not get this luxury. Schedule time to understand their objectives and perspective to improve trust, transparency, and alignment.

When there is clarity around what's needed for a successful project for both sides, the project manager and project sponsor work better together. If you have trouble pinning down what your sponsor wants, ask them and take notes to brainstorm solutions for improving your relationship. 

Project sponsor vs. project manager

What's the difference between a project sponsor and a project manager? Projects and business partnerships bring together teams of people with varied expertise to solve complex problems. But what if your partner doesn't speak your language? 

That's where these two key project management positions come in handy. A project sponsor has direct oversight of projects (often in consultation with a project manager), while a project manager plays an integral role in ensuring that projects are completed on time, within budget, and according to expectations.

As a project sponsor, your role would involve setting goals, establishing budgets, approving timelines, and giving final approval on deliverables. In summary, you'd be an essential part of getting projects off the ground. 

As a project manager, your day-to-day responsibilities include scoping out tasks to be completed within deadlines and managing everyone involved in making those tasks happen. To meet those goals, project managers report to sponsors and keep them apprised of what is going on.

How Wrike can help with collaboration between project sponsors and project managers

It's no secret that project management is about more than simply managing tasks and schedules. It's also about collaboration and communication across all stakeholders in your project — starting with sponsors and running through the development team down to the project manager and everyone else who plays a role in making sure projects are delivered successfully.

Wrike's project management software is used across industries and companies of all sizes to streamline collaboration between project sponsors and project managers. From centralized communication and document storage to real-time project and timeline updates, Wrike's project management software offers everything your project sponsor needs to perform at a high level. Get started with a two-week free trial of Wrike today.

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