Q: I am an architect in an architectural firm with the title of project manager. I can only assume that the “sponsor” would be my immediate supervisor/boss who is to keep me up-to-date on critical project information, time lines, etc. The thing I am looking for is how to get project information out of my boss. I classify him as the Project Sponsor since he does the marketing, meeting with the clients to gather information–both the initial meeting and the progressive meetings. At one point early after my promotion, I was attending meetings with the clients, but that has fallen by the wayside. I have tried scheduling lunch meetings and other meetings where my boss and I can get together, and that worked for a few weeks, but we cannot seem to stay on track.
A: Your situation is unique and represents a very specific challenge so let me try to provide some suggestions.
The intent in training sessions I conduct on Sponsorship is to get people to start thinking more specifically about how they may take actions to learn more and improve. This can be individual based but more often is a systemic issue for the organization. Therefore, it requires getting a critical mass of people to be aware of and make a commitment to excellence in project sponsorship. That is not easy to accomplish, but at least we need to get started thinking about it. I commend you for articulating your issues, for that means you are on a path to do something about it.
My reading on your role is that you are a project manager, managing multiple projects. Your boss is probably the project sponsor, which I define as the person: with authority to commit the organization to specific projects: a decision-maker: who allocates resources to projects: who owns or funds the projects, the “economic buyer.” This person does not just recommend but rather defines, funds, defends, and supports major activities from the beginning to the end of the project. Every project needs a defined sponsor who usually comes from upper management within an organization. If your boss does not do these things, he is probably not the sponsor. Who signs off on the Project Charter for a project? Who says yes or no? There should also be a project sponsor in your client organization that authorizes your architectural firm to do work on their behalf. The decision-maker, or contract signer, in your organization needs to work with the client decision-maker in order for projects to run smoothly and achieve desired outcomes. If that doesn’t happen, well, we know the results which are usually unsatisfactory.
Both my co-author and I have experienced similar challenges to the one you describe about getting information from the sponsor. The most basic advice we offer is passion, persistence, and patience. Believe in what you are doing, be transparent in your motivation about the results you are trying to achieve, and gather courage from your passionate belief in what you are doing and the leadership, learning, means, and motivation that you need to proceed. Be persistent in setting up the meetings with the boss and the client, and especially demand to be involved from the very beginning when project objectives are discussed. Also recognize that the changes needed in your organization about how to do projects better will not happen overnight, but the changes will happen if you patiently keep creating an environment where projects achieve optimized results.
Your quest for information about your projects is a good one, one that needs to be addressed as fervently as you can, because information is crucial for project success. Information is the glue that holds projects together. Seek it out through every means you can. Ask more questions, similar to what I described in the webinar about which is the most important among scope, schedule, and resources. Introduce more rigorous project methodologies if they are lacking. Request that a defined sponsor be set up for each project. Explain how that person needs to be actively involved, not managing tasks like the project manager does, but involved in defining what needs to be accomplished, how the organization will do it through assigned resources, and in making decisions when key issues arise. If need be, arrange sponsorship training. Conduct a project startup meeting for each project, and ask the sponsor to open it by sharing objectives, aspirations, and constraints. Gather a guiding coalition of people around you who also believe in this approach so that you are not alone when seeking improvements. Establish a project management information system scaled to whatever level of formal or informality is required to get you the information you need to manage your projects.
In essence, I suggest that you take the initiative to do these things and to go after the information you need. You know: ask, and you shall receive. Maybe you are already doing much of what I suggest so there might be other issues, or hidden agendas, that need to be surfaced. Please let me know if any of what I suggest is helpful or if there are other ways that I may assist.
Another suggestion is to get one or all of my books, read them, and them give them to your boss. Ask if he wouldn’t mind reading them. Then schedule a meeting to discuss any specific ideas or relevant practices that your want to put into action together. You have the opportunity make a difference within your organization.
Randy Englund, NPDP, CBM
Executive Consultant, Englund Project Management Consultancy