Table The Executive Interface

Immature Organization

• Executive is actively involved in projects.

• Executive acts as the project champion.

• Executive questions the project manager's decisions.

• Priority shifting occurs frequently.

• Executive views project management as a necessary evil.

• There is very little project management support.

• Executive discourages bringing problems upstairs.

• Executive is not committed to project sponsorship.

• Executive support exists only during project start-up.

• Executive encourages project decisions to be made.

• No procedures exist for assigning project sponsors.

• Executives seek perfection.

• Executive discourages use of a project charter.

• Executive is not involved in charter preparation.

• Executive does not understand what goes into a charter.

• Executives do not believe that the project team is performing.

Mature Organization

• Executive involvement is passive.

• Executive acts as the project sponsor.

• Executive trusts the project manager's decisions.

• Priority shifting is avoided.

• Executive views project management as beneficial.

• There is visible, ongoing support.

• Executive encourages bringing problems upstairs.

• Executive is committed to sponsorship (and ownership).

• Executive support exists on a continuous basis.

• Executive encourages business decisions to be made.

• Sponsorship assignment procedures are visible.

• Executives seek what is possible.

• Executive recognizes the importance of a charter.

• Executive takes responsibility for charter preparation.

• Executive understands the content of a charter.

• Executives trust that performance is taking place.

Figure 10-1 shows the major functions of a project sponsor. At the onset of a project, a senior committee meets to decide whether a given project should be deemed as priority or nonpriority. If the project is critical or strategic, then the committee may assign a senior manager as the sponsor, perhaps even a member of the committee. It is common practice for steering committee executives to function as sponsors for the projects that the steering committee oversees.

For projects that are routine, maintenance, or noncritical, a sponsor could be assigned from the middle-management levels. One organization that strongly prefers to have middle management assigned as sponsors cites the benefit of generating an atmosphere of management buy-in at the critical middle levels.

Not all projects need a project sponsor. Sponsorship is generally needed on those projects that require a multitude of resources or a large amount of integration between functional lines or that have the potential for disruptive conflicts or the need for strong customer communications. This last item requires further comment. Quite often customers wish to make sure that the contractor's project manager is spending funds prudently. Customers therefore like it when an executive sponsor supervises the project manager's funding allocation.

It is common practice for companies that are heavily involved in competitive bidding to identify in their proposal not only the resume of the project manager, but the resume of the executive project sponsor as well. This may give the bidder a competitive advantage,

FIGURE 10-1. Project sponsorship.

all other things being equal, because customers believe they have a direct path of communications to executive management. One such contractor identified the functions of the executive project sponsor as follows:

• Major participation in sales effort and contract negotiations

• Establishes and maintains top-level client relationships

• Assists project manager in getting the project underway (planning, procedures, staffing, etc.)

• Maintains current knowledge of major project activities (receives copies of major correspondence and reports, attends major client and project review meetings, visits project regularly, etc.)

• Handles major contractual matters

• Interprets company policy for the project manager

• Assists project manager in identifying and solving major problems

• Keeps general management and company management advised of major problems

Consider a project that is broken down into two life-cycle phases: planning and execution. For short-duration projects, say two years or less, it is advisable for the project sponsor to be the same individual for the entire project. For long-term projects of five years or so, it is possible to have a different project sponsor for each life-cycle phase, but preferably from the same level of management. The sponsor does not have to come from the same line organization as the one where the majority of the work will be taking place. Some companies even go so far as demanding that the sponsor come from a line organization that has no vested interest in the project.

The project sponsor is actually a "big brother" or advisor for the project manager. Under no circumstances should the project sponsor try to function as the project manager. The project sponsor should assist the project manager in solving those problems that the project manager cannot resolve by himself.

In one government organization, the project manager wanted to open up a new position on his project, and already had a woman identified to fill the position. Unfortunately, the size of the government project office was constrained by a unit-manning document that dictated the number of available positions.

The project manager obtained the assistance of an executive sponsor who, working with human resources, created a new position within thirty days. Without executive sponsorship, the bureaucratic system creating a new position would have taken months. By that time, the project would have been over.

In a second case study, the president of a medium-sized manufacturing company, a subsidiary of a larger corporation, wanted to act as sponsor on a special project. The project manager decided to make full use of this high-ranking sponsor by assigning him certain critical functions. As part of the project's schedule, four months were allocated to obtain corporate approval for tooling dollars. The project manager "assigned" this task to the project sponsor, who reluctantly agreed to fly to corporate headquarters. He returned two days later with authorization for tooling. The company actually reduced project completion time by four months, thanks to the project sponsor.

Figure 10-2 represents a situation where there were two project sponsors for one project. Alpha Company received a $25 million prime contractor project from the Air Force and subcontracted out $2 million to Beta Company. The project manager in Alpha Company earned $95,000 per year and refused to communicate directly with the project manager of Beta Company because his salary was only $65,000 per year. After all, as one executive said, "Elephants don't communicate with mice." The Alpha Company project manager instead sought out someone at Beta in his own salary range to act as the project sponsor, and the burden fell on the director of engineering.

The Alpha Company project manager reported to an Air Force colonel. The Air Force colonel considered his counterpart in Beta Company to be the vice president and general manager. Here, power and title were more important than the $100,000 differential in their salaries. Thus, there was one project sponsor for the prime contractor and a second project sponsor for the customer.

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