Getting the Sponsor You Need
Rule 2 - The Passive Conduit
This rule is really a corollary of Rule 1. One of the most common and serious mistakes that you can make as a project manager is, for you to compensate for a inadequate sponsor role by taking major project decisions such as scope, objectives, risk management, quality expectations, benefits realisation plans and so on by yourself.
As a project manager, your job is to take the sponsor's concept for his or her project and through participative project management processes define, refine, plan and manage the development of the initial concept through to successful implementation and support.
The key here is, that while it is your responsibility to project manage the realisation of the concept, it is not your concept … it is your sponsor's.
Simply, you are the "passive" conduit through the dreams of the sponsor flow.
What we mean by passive in this context refers to the ownership of the sponsor's concept. In other words, the project management process is far from passive and it is your responsibility to proactively negotiate, communicate, plan, enable, facilitate and manage the project team, stakeholder involvement and so on. However, should you come across differences of opinions between stakeholders as to the scope and objectives, quality requirements, etc. of the project, it is your job to attempt to resolve the conflict using whatever organisational authority or personal power that you have available to you.
However, should this fail, it is then your responsibility to "push back" the conflict to your sponsor explaining what you have done to resolve it and what decisions your sponsor needs to make to get their project back on track.
At this stage, you may find that your sponsor attempts to re-delegate the problem to you by saying "Oh! Thanks for letting me know. However, I am a bit busy at the moment. Why don't you handle it?"[iv]
You are now facing the most critical decision you will face in the project. If you accept this behaviour, you will in violation of Rule 1with all it's associated consequences. Alternatively, you must firmly and politely resist the re-delegation.
Try to explain again what you have already done to resolve the conflict and the impact of non-resolution of the problem on the project. Other tricks include using the "royal we" as in:
"Thanks for the vote of confidence, boss, but unless we resolve this together, our project will ……."
Should this fail, then, read Rules 7 and 8 and do your best to survive.
One of the most experienced and competent project managers we have ever met - Chris Wooley at A.M.P. - has a wonderful comment he shares with new project managers. When asked for his opinion on major issues of scope, objectives for a project he was managing, he would always reply:
"I have no opinion. I am just the project manager."
[iv] More likely, they'll say "Why am I being bothered with this? Aren't you paid to manage the project?"
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