Eight to Late

Sensemaking and Analytics for Organizations

Project sponsor stereotypes

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It’s been a while since my last post on stereotypes, so I’m well overdue for another. This time I take aim at a much misunderstood mob – project sponsors. These are folks, who by virtue of their financial or executive clout, actually call the shots on projects. On the off-chance that some sponsors I’ve worked with read this post, I hasten to add that this is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to sentient sponsors is purely coincidental and wholly unintended. With the disclaimer done, I can compose my rogues gallery of project sponsors, without having to remind readers that fictional characters are often based on real life.

Andrew Astronaut: This guy is way up in the rarefied heights of the executive stratosphere (by his reckoning anyway). With all the big picture stuff to look after, the project’s just a small speck of inconsequence for him (“Project? What project?”). As a project manager, it is possible that you may not even meet him – he doesn’t show up for sponsor meetings and communicates only through emails from high above. In fact, it is rumoured that he doesn’t exist, and is really an email alias for the CEO’s Assistant.

Charlie Count-the-cash: Charlie’s a cash-counter, so it’s natural that he’d see the project as a black hole for company cash. To counter this, he has a bag of tried and tested money saving devices. One of his favourites is to “save money” by cutting costs at the start of a project (eg: “You can’t have 3 programmers, we have funding for only two.”). Trouble is, when the project’s running late, he ends up throwing twice as much money at it. 
Devlin Details: Devlin thrives on detail. He’s the kind of sponsor for whom the 50 page progress report (and the 500 page business case) was invented.  Not sure how he finds the time to wade through reams of documents given  all his other onerous duties, but he actually does. This is evident from the perceptive and pointed questions he asks later. When dealing with Devlin, do as the scouts do – be prepared.

Len Leftfield: Len’s the guy who shows up at sponsor meetings only to display his superior intellect. He does this by coming up with clever questions and perspectives that no one (least of all the project manager) has thought of. His questions may not be relevant – but they’re always clever and, of course, unanswerable.

Mick Micromanager: Mick likes to see the “small picture” or the “trees for the forest” or “the local view” or <insert any appropriate reverse cliche here>  . Despite his executive responsibilities, Mick feels compelled to keep close track of (and offer unsolicited advice on) project planning and execution. According to him he has no choice in the matter, because project managers are prone to messing things up.

You may have recognised some sponsors you’ve dealt with in the above list. If so, have a beer or three and the feeling should pass. Even if it doesn’t, you’ll feel a lot better – particularly if you’re dealing with a snarky sponsor on your current project.

Before I close this piece, I should mention one last stereotypical sponsor – Pete Perfect. Pete  provides high-level guidance and business perspective, is available to sort out political issues, understands problems that project managers face etc. etc. In short, he’s the perfect project sponsor. “In your dreams,” I hear you say.  You’re right, of course – but then I did say this is a work of fiction.

Written by K

July 6, 2008 at 9:19 am

Posted in Project Management

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