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It's about time for Project Sponsor Professional certification

So it's finally the end of October, and besides carved pumpkins and assorted candies, we are all caught up in another seasonal fever: wrapping up next year's budget.

As I was going over my own spreadsheet, I paused over the "Training" budget line - which was blank, and it had been strongly hinted to me that it was supposed to stay that way. However, a malevolent inspiration struck just then, and as I wrote I couldn't help but giggle softly at the politically-incorrect storm that I was about to start: I input 3 days of training for each Senior Manager in the company, with "better project sponsors" in the comment field.

We have to face two things: one, a lot of projects fail, in whole or in part. Two, projects have been failing for a long while now, and though we lack the magical pie chart that reveal all the reasons in unambiguous glory, in general we still have a pretty good gut feeling about why. Up until now, project managers have played the humility card - "no, really, it's our fault, we'll try harder, we'll go on training, we'll learn best practices, we'll get certified..." And so we did, and offers for all kinds of training boomed. I just checked on Google: "project management training" yields about 210 million results. I can be signed up for a course close to my workplace in less than ten minutes.

What I can't find, however, is a course for Senior Managers to teach them about the roles and responsibilities of Project Sponsors. And we need them - good Project Sponsors, I mean. It's a fixture on every KSF list of every study about what makes project succeed. So why isn't Sponsorship 101 part of every project kick-off?

I believe project managers have been humble enough now. Maturity models? Check. Bodies of knowledge? More numerous than bodies of water on the planet. Methodologies? Down to a science, baby. Project Managers have done their part, they've got their professional certifications, their PMP badges, their belts, their spurs and everything. It's time the rest of the crowd involved in project upped their game to a professional level, too.

So, Project Sponsors: what have *you* done lately?
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Sponsor: "huh?? What have we done lately? Oh yeah! We've been busy ensuring there are enough projects floating around so that you project managers have your job secured."

Joke aside. Are you seriously think this will work?

Hi Julien

Good suggestion this Sponsor training! not forgetting that these people are of high level management status usually! they are busy with business stratetic decisions, planning, all sorts in fact! however thinking of a medium to large organisations should have in place a training module of at least couple of hours to half a day on Project Sponsor awareness as to become familiar as with what is expected of them! learn the fundamentals of Project Management the very least - as for a Project Sponsor Professional certification hmm! it wont happen me thinks! these people are usually busy, busy! what the PM can do is to guide them, walk them through projects gain their support and trust is half the battle!.

Lets not forget that Project Sponsors may work with different Project Managers! we are all different! hence we will get the good and the not so good sponsors too! regardless of training !

Just love the concept..! It is right up there with a cert of some kind for Management 101. And I mean just the basics. Surprisingly, actually not now that I think of it, management training is lacking in many organizations and this can impact just about every aspect of the business in one way or another.

Wai: actually, this time of the year, they're removing projects from the 2013 roadmaps to make the budgets fit... :) Oh, and just because their regular activities usually allows Project Managers to remain relevant, doesn't mean they have the right to suck at the *other* half of their job.

But back to your question. I believe there are two ways to read it: "do I think it would work", and "do I expect it to happen anytime soon". To the first, I can reply affirmatively without hesitation. Yes, it would work, if only because a team is only as performant as its weakest link - ergo, any single individual in a team striving to better himself in his given role reinforces the efficiency of his link with the other team members. There is never any downside to an increased mastery over a particular aspect of one's job.

However, given the constraints of the real world, I honestly don't think it can work just like that. A "Project Sponsor Professional" is an impossibility by definition, as the meaning of "professional" is litterally "a person who earns his living from the practice of a specified trade". Since the Project Sponsor is a role, that's hardly ever considered full-time, in the temporary organizational structure that is the Project, it simply doesn't fit the definition.
Another hurdle to overcome is the fact that, as Vasoula mentioned, nominated Project Sponsors usually come from the higher strata of the organization. And very often, these people considered themselves de facto proficient in their role as part of the Project (e.g. "Hey, I'm already managing a department, they think I don't know how to manage a project?"). Unfortunately, their knowledge, valid or not, doesn't necessarily include understanding the fine perimeter of responsibilities, and they can easily make a Project Manager's life very difficult by inadvertently overstepping (or understepping) their role.

Anyway, my observations lead me to believe that Project Sponsors are the "forgotten generation" of Project Management training. I postulate that by tailoring training courses to the specific needs of their role and responsibilities within the Project structure, project success rates can be increased. However this is just my belief - anyone can feel free to disprove my theory, I'd be very interested in hearing about real life examples that demonstrate a different conclusion.


I could not agree more. I believe training will help, but to certain extent. Forget about the training for sponsor for a moment, just look at the training for project managers. Does it help? Yes, to a certain degree, but the high project failure rate tells it all.

Also, to echo your statement "these people considered themselves de facto proficient in their role as part of the Project", I would add - He who knows not and knows not he knows not is a sponsor, train him.

I thought we are good at just about any "project". Sure we can each make a difference.
- at the next staff survey, make it loud and clear that leaders must know how to sponsor a project, being the A in RACI without the excuses
* at the CEO townhall stand up and say how much money we could save if only everyone involved with business transformation or projects top down go through a project foundation training, similar to Lean Six Sigma
* at the next steering committee, be brave and tell it as it is about the ever changing scope or failure of delivering tasks, make sure Sponsor name is included for their outstanding tasks, first making sure whatever it is you are not happy about, translated into activities, meeting to discuss blah blah, decision on blah blah.
* If you experienced a good sponsor, at the next townhall meeting standup and acknowledge how the sponsor is helping to make a project successful or let the steering committee know exactly why the sponsor has been proactive in ensuring project success
* if you experienced a poor sponsor, then say in the next townhall meeting I hope one day I get to be a Project Sponsor, however no one seems to know what training a Project Sponsor has to go through.

It's all about MINDSET, Ours, theirs. A skill is a skill, senior or not.

By the way, speak for yourself, I was assigned to and successfully delivered 107 projects/continuous improvement initiatives. The key here is I interviewed business and system SME's, do a quick assessment and let the power be I can or I cannot deliver it before committing myself to it. By can, I mean benefits over costs. Unless it is a compliance project, in which case customer experience and reputational loss over cost.

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"No man who has once heartily and wholly laughed can be altogether irreclaimably bad."

- Thomas Carlyle