Project Sponsors - Who's running this project anyway?


All too often there is confusion and argument as to who is running the project, and who it should be?

The answer is simple. The Project Manager runs the project, no 'ifs' 'buts' or 'maybe'.  In most cases, the project manager will report  directly to a senior business manager who has been appointed 'sponsor' or 'project owner'.  The project manager runs the project on a day-to-day basis on behalf of the owner.

Note that the question is "Who is running the project" not "Whose project is it"?  The answer to that is also unequivocal, but different. This is discussed in the article "Sponsorman".

We won't get into the role of the 'steering committee' here, that's a separate article. However, it is important that there is a clearly identified business owner, and a project manager. They should be two separate people, with clearly defined roles and responsibilities. 

Think of the construction of a building as your project. If you are not a builder, would you go out and buy a hammer and nails, and start knocking up a frame?  Or would you find an experienced, reputable builder, and hire them to undertake the construction?  There is never any doubt as to ownership (or who will foot the bill).  You hire the builder because they have the skills and experience to get the job done the right way.

Most large IM&T projects are at least as complex as a building construction, yet some business managers think they can buy 'project management' software, call themselves a project manager, and off they go. Put your money on a project failure here, the odds are pretty good!

Running an IM&T project requires a person with specific skills and characteristics. Yes, they need to understand the various tools, including appropriate software, but that is one of many considerations. They need years of relevant experience. As with selecting a builder, you want someone who has done this before, and has a history of successful implementations behind them. They know what works and what doesn't.  The traps and the shortcuts. They have a network of contacts. They know who has relevant experience, and who can be trusted to get the job done. They know which people, companies, and processes are appropriate for the particular project, and which ones are not. 

No matter how skilled a business manager is, you cannot turn them into a project manager overnight by executive decree, or by sending them on a two week project management course. We have reviewed a project which did exactly that - and although the person was a competent manager in their chosen discipline, the project was an expensive and very public failure. The manager in this case was unwittingly set up for failure, and the business was set up for a disaster.

Project managers need guidance and support from the organization's operational and executive management, but they also need to be given the freedom to run the project properly and professionally.

A good credo is 'One project, one owner, one manager'.  Just as long as everyone understands the difference between owning the project, and running it.