The Lack of Project Management Training at the Sponsor Level is a Cause of Project Failures

Corporations invests millions each year in – PMO‘s, technology, project management training, and project management consulting support. Conversely, data reflects that even with project management being a relatively common process used at most companies; project success rates do not reflect the investment. Studies show that project management success rates range between 35 to 45% – far from a sensational benchmark to brag about. Bottom line, despite many companies investing in project management infrastructure most projects are not delivered successfully (on-time, within budget and to desired quality). Though the root causes for project failures are many, one glaring deficiency becoming clearer is the lack of project management training at the sponsor level. Project managers usually garner most of the attention for project management training initiatives, followed by team members and software experts. However, project sponsors – those individuals who fill the role of resource provider, key decision maker and remover of obstacles -tend to slip through the training cracks. Including project sponsors (and executive stakeholders) in project management methodology training will help three key areas: (1) better project direction, (2) better project data utilization, and (3) improved cultural adoption of project management.

Common Characteristics of Productive Sponsors

  • Provides Active Direction During Planning Sessions
  • Uses the Project Information Provided to Challenge Teams
  • Commits to Instilling Project Management in the Corporate Culture
  • Stays Current on the Latest Project Status Report
  • Understands the Planning Methodology
  • Is Present and Engaged During Control Meetings

Better Project Data Utilization

Project management information is not very valuable if it is not being utilized effectively. Even the most detailed report package or visually stimulating powerpoint presentation will fall on deaf ears if the recipients do not know what they are supposed to do with the information provided. To this point, the sponsor’s key role throughout the course of the project is to allocate and redirect resources as needed, remove obstacles preventing the project from moving forward, and providing strategic direction to the project manager, among others. Without the sponsor understanding the same planning methodology as the project manager, discussions on concepts of critical/controlling path, compression techniques, and resource management alternatives, will often get confused. In the end, the sponsor and project manager may either get misaligned or the sponsor gradually becomes disengaged. By including the project sponsor in the project management training, they are able to internalize the data being presented to them, understand strategic options and provide more sound direction to the project manager.

Better Direction

The project sponsor plays a key role in defining the strategic direction of the project and communicating management’s expectations for the project. This information is often times captured in the form of a project charter. If a project sponsor has not been involved in the basic building blocks of project charter development, they often times struggle to provide clear direction to the project manager. The result is the project manager may drive the team to successfully completing the wrong project! The project sponsor is the conduit between the executive stakeholders and the project manager. Without a clear understanding of how to communicate the objectives of the project, how the objectives of the project determine the key deliverables, and how the project manager can best deliver the project with specified deadlines; the sponsor is ultimately helping to facilitate a failed project. By ensuring your project sponsors are grounded in the same project management methodology as the project manager, you are providing your project manager and team the best opportunity to launching a successful project.

Cultural Adoption

Successful project management initiatives are not rolled out without some discomfort involved. Project management is a process that involves the team’s time, focus and commitment to success. Without these elements, everyone is simply going through the motions and not viewing project management as a value added management tool. When utilized to its fullest, project management can be an early warning system that helps reduce organizational stress and assists the project team with prioritizing their time.  A strong sponsor that is well trained in the planning methodology and bought into its success can act as a “lightening rod” in channeling project success into a cultural game changer. By driving the team to become engaged in the planning and control process and utilizing the techniques they have been trained in, they can quickly generate momentum that illustrates their investment (time and budgetary) are worthwhile.

The project sponsor fills a critical role in the success of a project and thus should be grounded in the same planning and control concepts as the project manager and team. By not including the sponsors in the training, the message received from the project manager and team is “do as I say, not as I do” – a recipe for failure. By speaking the same project management language the sponsors are able to take a more active role in setting the direction of the project, ask the right questions when the project management data is presented, help the project manager navigate potential obstacles during the project execution and ultimately motivate the overall corporate culture to adopt project management as a value added process.

project sponsorship