We all know that project sponsorship is critical to project success, right? But, how do we set the foundation for a constructive, transparent, and collaborative relationship with our project sponsors?
When starting a new project (with a new project sponsor), I admittedly get a tinge of anxiety going into the first conversation. Questions such as “What is their personality like?” “What are their triggers (e.g., cost, schedule, quality)?” “What do they define as success?” “What outcome do they hope to achieve with this project?” “To what level of granularity do they want to or are willing to be involved?” all run through my head. These are not “lite” questions and how could you possibly get to the root of all these in what is typically a 30-minute conversation?
Sometimes it works to allow an open dialogue format, and while it’s important to listen first to the sponsor’s needs and requirements, it is also helpful to put some thought and prep work into those discussions. This framework helps to guide the conversation so that you walk out with what you need to successfully deliver your initiative. Additionally, when you set a purpose or intent for the meeting upfront (or for any meeting for that matter), it helps to maintain focus.
Here are some targeted questions to provide a framework for establishing this foundation. It’s also a good practice to lead the conversation with the intent that your responsibility to the sponsor is to help them succeed. Establishing that at the beginning helps to build trust and openness, which is also critical to a successful project outcome.
- Who owns the decisions and how does the project manager help reinforce the decision making?
- How would you like issues escalated?
- Do you want to lead the kickoff or would you the project manager or someone else to lead?
- Who should be included on the steering committee?
- What other meetings would you like to attend?
- What communications should the project manager be responsible for sending directly? (e.g. org-wide communications, status reports, targeted stakeholder communications, etc.)
- Do you want the project manager to ghost write communications on your behalf?
- How often do you expect to hear from the project manager regarding the project status? How frequently do you want to meet with the project manager one-to-one?
- Should I be aware of any other major initiatives you are leading that you may need to prioritize?
- Do you want to share any other thoughts on how to best work with you (communication styles, favorite templates, best practices, etc.)?
- What are your expectations for the project management role and responsibilities?
Once you establish the foundation with your sponsor, you can get into the details of the project itself. Here are some guiding questions to focus the sponsor on the project.
- What is the business reason for this project? Why is this project happening now? Who is impacted?
- What are the financial implications and risks of not doing this project?
- How does this project connect to overall business/organizational strategy?
- What are your thoughts on doing town halls, road shows, emails “from the desk of,” core and steering team workshops, other special events to support this project?
- How would you like to go about developing and utilizing an Elevator Speech with organizational team members and leaders?
- What kind of resistance or challenges do you anticipate with this project? What’s your plan to manage those challenges?
In summary, focusing first on the project sponsor’s personal needs and requirements helps to establish a partnership and trust throughout the project. Some project sponsors may want to jump right into discussing the nitty gritty details of the project. Other sponsors, however, may need some time to develop that relationship, to build trust, and to figure out how to work with you, too. Bottom line is that it’s important to be adaptable to the person and the situation. So, the next time you have an opportunity to meet with your project sponsor, spend some time thinking through what your goals are for the conversation and elicit your sponsor’s goals with targeted questions.
As you leave your initial conversation with your stakeholder, it is important to reinforce expectations. Leave an open door for the sponsor to reach out with questions and feedback. As a PM, it’s important to be humble about receiving feedback and to be open to adjusting your approach to how you work with your sponsor as you continue through the project execution.
At ViTL Solutions we focus on building strong relationships not only with our project delivery teams, cross-functional partners, and key stakeholders, we also believe it is critical to build a relationship with our executive sponsors as our primary stakeholder.