Sponsors are critical to almost all projects. They’re the people who get budgets approved, they’re the ones who provide the energy and impetus for getting the business ready for the project. Yet PMs often seem to treat them like they’re a pain in the backside and are really just a distraction from the real project work. When we meet with sponsors, we’ll often take along a project progress/status report and run through it with them during the meeting. If we don’t have much to report, we’ll just wordsmith the report to make it look like there’s real action happening. These types of status reports often don’t have many quantitative measures and are a talkfest rather than a real progress report.
However, when you treat the sponsor meeting as the opportunity that they are, you’ll find more engagement and more success in your projects. Remember that sponsors themselves usually report to someone (or a board, executive team etc) so it’s in their interest to know what is truly happening. Treat each sponsor meeting as if you were selling them the project/product and you’ll soon see a revitalizing of the business.
Prepare for the meeting by gathering not just the progress report but also what is not contained in the progress report. Info on the team, the environment, customer politics, project performance enables a much broader picture of what is happening and more of what sponsors really want to know.
They can always read a status report to get the % schedule complete, budget expended, risks identified. But some PMs exclaim “but we need to explain the report to the sponsor”. That really just indicates a poorly written report.
Motivated sponsors are just as interested in what is not in the report and most importantly if their expectations are still being met. They also want to make sure they are aware of any surprises as soon as they crop up – rather than being informed at the end of the month. Showing green every status report until it goes red generally shows either lack of foresight or lack of transparency. Neither is where you want to be.
An important job of the PM is managing expectations – particularly those of the customer and of the sponsor. By getting to know their concerns BEFORE the meeting, you can begin to anticipate what questions they’ll ask during the meeting. *
*emails you get throughout the week from the sponsor are a good indicator of their concerns – read between the lines.
Of course if you don’t get anything from them, either:
a) they’re priorities are elsewhere and you have got to get back under their noses for a successful outcome – “not in their lot, oft forgot”
b) they’re completely happy with progress (less likely)
At a minimum you should cover:
Background – make sure you’re aware of the sponsor’s situation
Scope & Needs
Budget & Other resources
Personal logistics and expectations
Conflicts and potential overlaps
When you can anticipate their needs and come prepared with answers, you build confidence in their project and your progress.
Not to sound like a cliche, but help them help you...