Understanding the Role of the Project Sponsor and Mentor

Without proper sponsorship and a "management mentor", you may find it very difficult to complete critical projects, particularly when your project might not be as visible as others.  The project sponsor/mentor is an "advocate", whose role it is to promote "project interests" and ensure that each sponsored initiative gets it fair share of available resources.  Read on for more.

Most technology projects involve change, and change brings fear, and fear brings resistance. Without a dedicated sponsor and mentor (both in time and committment), you may lack the solid voice needed to convince staff and end-users that the change is necessary and hopefully beneficial. The consequences of "lackluster" sponsorship can doom any project. For example, without sufficient and evident support you may not be able to attract the best resources for your project, you may not be able to compete for funding with other projects, or you may not have the clout to solve internal political conflicts. In fact, you might need to question the overall value of your project.

At the end of the day, project sponsors and/or mentors are "stakeholders", with a vested interest in a given project, and the ability to influence the outcome.  What are these interests and influences?  That's what the stakeholder analysis is for.

The Role of the Project Sponsor and Mentor

Before you embark on any project effort, one primary question must be addressed: Do you have the required mandate and necessary management support for the project at hand?  If not, your project can probably still move forward, but you may be proceeding at your own peril.  To appreciate the risk a lack of sponsorship can bring you must first consider the  primary role of the project sponsor and mentor.  It may not be a consistently busy role, but it is an essential one.  In actual practice, the project "sponsor and mentor" typically fills eight (8) key “supportive” needs for project visibility and success:

  1. To endorse project purpose and structure.
  2. To establish project value and visibility.
  3. To build credibility for the project and the performing organization.
  4. To promote the project within the organization.
  5. To resolve conflicts that might impact project visibility and value.
  6. To provide direction, counsel and guidance to the project manager (and team).
  7. To enforce and validate difficult and/or sensitive decisions.
  8. To promote the IT/end-user partnership as a vehicle for stakeholder cooperation, engagement and collaboration.

Ideas into Action: Take the Sponsorship Test

Consistent, visible sponsorship is the cornerstone of any project, granting authority, acceptance and direction.  Why spend precious time and energy on a project that may lack recognized business value?  That's the issue of the day.  As part of the project "selection" process, sponsorship quality must be evaluated, and it takes just seven (7) simple questions.  Note: The questions may be simple.... the answers, not so much.  And that's why the analysis matters.

  1. Can you clearly identify a project sponsor?
  2. Is company management aware of the need for, and benefits of, the project at hand?
  3. Has sufficient funding been approved and provided?
  4. Will management be supportive when and if project problems occur?
  5. Will management be supportive if political issues arise?
  6. Have you been given sufficient staff resources to complete the project?
  7. Have you been given sufficient authority as the project manager?

Unless you can answer "yes" to most, if not all, of these questions, management support may be lacking, and it may be wise reconsider this project, and to weigh appropriate alternatives.  How is this accomplished? 

To learn more turn to our next featured articles Are You Ready for a Risky Project? and Finding Graceful Exits from Troubled Projects.

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