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Topics: Benefits Realization, Business Case, Requirements Management
What Questions to ask for knowing your Project Sponsor?
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Hello all,

i want to ask for your expertise and your support.

I want to conduct some tool/template/guidance for the community here (it is not finally decided what it will become exactly ;) ) and this should cover the whole project management process flow right from the start till the very end.
It will be closely aligned to the PMBoK Guide (Processes) but if we want to start at the beginning, PMBoK Guide is somewhat ... let's say "unclear".
If we look process group wise than of course "initiation" will be the start and within "Initiation" the first process is "Develop project charter" and yes, we will discuss that also ... but ...as most of us maybe know "Develop Project Charter" is of course not really the very first step while Initiating a new project, right.
From my my perspective maybe also not the first but for sure one of the first steps should be to discuss the purpose and all the project related topics with your project sponsor, right?

The questions to your sponsor should be organized around these topics:

- business objective, project deliverable and the expected business benefit
- project context, including political considerations
- Who the project intended to impact
- Schedule and budget expectations
- Tradeoffs that will have to be made

In addition as part of the Sponsor meeting, as a project manager you will also want to:

- Gain an understanding of your working relationship
- Set expectations for next steps


Well, some of you may ask, why is that necessary?

Have you ever heard the following words in project management when the project is closed: "We can't use that. It's not what we need/asked for!" Ugly, isn't it?

As the saying goes, "Projects don't fail at the end. They fail at the beginning."
That's why it's important to get the venture off to a solid start by interviewing the project sponsor, the individual who will ultimately declare victory (or failure). Never, ever accept someone else's interpretation of what the sponsor might be looking for.

And to take it a step further, the chances are very high that the sponsor doesn't even know what he or she really wants, even when they think they do. This is typical on most projects where the definition of success and what is wanted and needed will evolve throughout most of the project's life cycle, driven by internal and external change.

And even though the project deliverable will likely look much different at the end than it did at the beginning, it's the sponsor that sets the base line and is the one with whom the project manager needs to establish a rapport.

So, like said before, the results of that Meeting(s) set the baseline for the project and are the inputs into the following steps/processes like developing a "project statement of work", a "project charter", a "project scope statement" and so on.

And since the project sponsor is for sure one of the key stakeholders we could also define that step as the beginning of stakeholder management and the questionnaire we will use to interview the project sponsor will be used to interview other stakeholders also.

So what do you ask for now?

Well, what i want to know from you is, what are your questions for this very first project initiation meeting with your project sponsor?
Your questions should reflect the topics mentioned before.

I do have already a bunch of questions but i won't provide them yet to leave this request unaffected.
In the end i will provide you as a result the complete list of questions here and of course the question catalog will be implemented in the above mentioned tool/template/guideline.

Thank you all so much for taking the time to read this and in advance of course also for your help you may have provided.

Regards,

Markus
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The first thing I ask the sponsor is what they want the final product or service to do. In my experience, many sponsors don't know how to effectively translate what they want into a set of requirements. And if they don't have a set of requirements, how can they provide you with an accurate list of deliverables?

Even if the sponsor hands me a list of requirements and deliverables I still ask the sponsor what they want from the product or service the project produces. Their response allows me to vet the list of requirements and deliverables to ensure that what they say they require will actually result in a product or service that does what they want.

To do otherwise runs the risk of my turning over a product or service to the sponsor, only to hear the dreaded "this doesn't do what I want" - to which my only response is the unsatisfying "but it does what you said."
...
1 reply by Markus Kopko, PMP
Nov 16, 2016 4:35 AM
Markus Kopko, PMP
...
Hello Matthew,

thank you so much for your contribution. I do absolute understand your perspective here.
On the other hand i do not think that in this first interview we talking about here, a set of requirements or concrete deliverables could be expected.
Furthermore this interview and the asked questions should help the project manager and his/her team to develop this set/list of requirements/deliverables. What do you think?

You wrote: " ... The first thing I ask the sponsor is what they want the final product or service to do. ..."

I think this is exactly the right path here; do you think the following questions do reflect your purpose here?:

"What do you perceive the main functions and features to be?

What are the absolute minimum ("do or die") functions/features that are required?

What are your thoughts on its physical appearance?"

Regards,

Markus
Network:128609



Markus,

I am excited to see this tool you are developing. More or less, you covered everything but I would concentrate as well on the following during my first meeting with the sponsor:

1- Whom are the main stakeholders ?
2- What could be the potential risks (High Level)?

Cheers & Good Luck.
...
1 reply by Markus Kopko, PMP
Nov 16, 2016 5:16 AM
Markus Kopko, PMP
...
Hello Rami,

thank you for the response and the mentioned question. Will consider them for sure.

You said i have covered more or less everything already; this might be right in the terms of topics or general headlines.
But i m looking for the right questions to try to get to the bottom of this topics/headlines.

Regards,

Markus
Network:4573



Markus, let us know when you have the tool ready

Good Luck!! :)
...
1 reply by Markus Kopko, PMP
Nov 16, 2016 5:18 AM
Markus Kopko, PMP
...
Hello Anupam,

of course i will.
There will be postings in my blog here at pm.com and in addition we are preparing a webinar series especially for the community here where this tool/framework will be presented.

So just stay tuned ... ;9

Regards,

Markus
Network:132229



Nov 15, 2016 11:27 AM
Replying to Matthew Smothers
...
The first thing I ask the sponsor is what they want the final product or service to do. In my experience, many sponsors don't know how to effectively translate what they want into a set of requirements. And if they don't have a set of requirements, how can they provide you with an accurate list of deliverables?

Even if the sponsor hands me a list of requirements and deliverables I still ask the sponsor what they want from the product or service the project produces. Their response allows me to vet the list of requirements and deliverables to ensure that what they say they require will actually result in a product or service that does what they want.

To do otherwise runs the risk of my turning over a product or service to the sponsor, only to hear the dreaded "this doesn't do what I want" - to which my only response is the unsatisfying "but it does what you said."
Hello Matthew,

thank you so much for your contribution. I do absolute understand your perspective here.
On the other hand i do not think that in this first interview we talking about here, a set of requirements or concrete deliverables could be expected.
Furthermore this interview and the asked questions should help the project manager and his/her team to develop this set/list of requirements/deliverables. What do you think?

You wrote: " ... The first thing I ask the sponsor is what they want the final product or service to do. ..."

I think this is exactly the right path here; do you think the following questions do reflect your purpose here?:

"What do you perceive the main functions and features to be?

What are the absolute minimum ("do or die") functions/features that are required?

What are your thoughts on its physical appearance?"

Regards,

Markus
...
1 reply by Matthew Smothers
Nov 16, 2016 12:51 PM
Matthew Smothers
...
Hello Markus,

You are correct, we should not expect a complete list of requirements or deliverables from the first meeting. Often, however, I am provided with some high level requirements and, additionally, one or more deliverables required by a contract with a customer. What I was attempting to convey is that if I receive any requirements or deliverables from the sponsor I review them as part of that initial meeting. Call it an initial review to identify anything that is infeasible - e.g., you want me to lead a project to produce a passenger aircraft capable of reaching mach 6 using turbofan engines; or you want me to lead a project to design an internal combustion engine made with metal that has a thermodynamic efficiency of 75%.

"What do you perceive the main functions and features to be?" - Yes, I like this question. I would still ask "What do you want it to do?" because that question is about overall functionality. With your question we start delving a bit into the details - which is good. I want to understand the overall desired capability, however, in case it becomes infeasible to deliver a product/service with all of the main functions and features within the time or budget constraints. Understanding the overall desired capability allows me to look for alternative solutions.

As an example, suppose your overall desired capability was for the project to design a passenger car capable of traveling 25 km per liter. If you give me a requirement to use a non-turbocharged diesel-powered engine it will be difficult for the project to succeed unless I can make changes to other things to reduce the weight of the vehicle, improve its aerodynamic efficiency, etc. Those changes, however, might require changing one or more of the main functions and/or features. If I don't understand the overall desired capability then the project is heading towards failure because all I know is I can't deliver the main functions or features within the constraints.

"What are the absolute minimum ("do or die") functions/features that are required?" - Call it a personal quirk, but I don't like asking what is the absolute minimum required. To me that question implies striving for mediocrity instead of excellence. I prefer asking "What functions/features must be included?" If something must be included it is part of the minimally acceptable baseline, but I've avoided asking what is the minimum.

"What are your thoughts on its physical appearance?" - Absolutely.

Also: "Is there anything you do not want the product/service to do?" Maybe the product/service is intended to complement one or more products/services the company already produces. If stakeholders tell me during the Collect Requirements process they want functionality provided by the other products/services, I know to exclude those requirements. Or maybe there is a legal limit to what the product/service can do.
Network:132229



Nov 15, 2016 12:23 PM
Replying to Rami Kaibni
...
Markus,

I am excited to see this tool you are developing. More or less, you covered everything but I would concentrate as well on the following during my first meeting with the sponsor:

1- Whom are the main stakeholders ?
2- What could be the potential risks (High Level)?

Cheers & Good Luck.
Hello Rami,

thank you for the response and the mentioned question. Will consider them for sure.

You said i have covered more or less everything already; this might be right in the terms of topics or general headlines.
But i m looking for the right questions to try to get to the bottom of this topics/headlines.

Regards,

Markus
...
1 reply by Rami Kaibni
Nov 16, 2016 11:15 AM
Rami Kaibni
...
Good Luck Markus - I look forward to seeing the end product :-)
Network:132229



Nov 15, 2016 11:59 PM
Replying to Anupam
...
Markus, let us know when you have the tool ready

Good Luck!! :)
Hello Anupam,

of course i will.
There will be postings in my blog here at pm.com and in addition we are preparing a webinar series especially for the community here where this tool/framework will be presented.

So just stay tuned ... ;9

Regards,

Markus
Network:253



In addition to Matthew's and Rami's, I would ask to know about rather sponsor's role such as:

1. How do you intervene when the conflicts or problems occur beyond the realm of project level?
2. What nature of project reports and level of details do you want me to send you?
3. What are the hindrances currently you are dealing with for this project?
4. How to align the project goals with organizational strategic goals?
5. Who are negative stakeholders when the business case has been approved?
6. What are other jobs to be normally executed day to day than for this project?
7. How to deal with the issues when they should be communicated with senior management or requesting organization?

There might be more questions than the lists above.

Let us know when you finish.
...
2 replies by Markus Kopko, PMP
Nov 17, 2016 7:43 AM
Markus Kopko, PMP
...
Hello Sungjoon,

thank you very much for this contribution. Good questions which i will definitively consider for the questionnaire.

Regards,

Markus
Nov 18, 2016 9:24 AM
Markus Kopko, PMP
...
Hello Sungjoon,

thanks again for mentioning those questions, i have included them meanwhile in some way.

But i don't get behind this one:

"6. What are other jobs to be normally executed day to day than for this project? "

May be it is because i am not native English but could you please explain a bit more specific what this is about?
Thanks in advance!

Regards,

Markus
Network:128609



Nov 16, 2016 5:16 AM
Replying to Markus Kopko, PMP
...
Hello Rami,

thank you for the response and the mentioned question. Will consider them for sure.

You said i have covered more or less everything already; this might be right in the terms of topics or general headlines.
But i m looking for the right questions to try to get to the bottom of this topics/headlines.

Regards,

Markus
Good Luck Markus - I look forward to seeing the end product :-)
Network:106667



Do you consider the project sponsor to be the client? I often have dual sponsors, one internal sponsor and one client sponsor.

The questions won't necessarily be the same to each sponsor.
...
1 reply by Markus Kopko, PMP
Nov 17, 2016 7:50 AM
Markus Kopko, PMP
...
Hello Stéphane,

good point you have mentioned here.
Of course we could have internal or external sponsors and ideally the questions should work for both of them.
At least we should find the lowest common denominator.

But of course we could include sections which contain either questions only for the internal and also for the external sponsor.

It would be great if you could state which questions you would ask an external sponsor exclusively or in addition to the questions for an internal sponsor and/or vice versa.

Regards,

Markus
Network:9



Nov 16, 2016 4:35 AM
Replying to Markus Kopko, PMP
...
Hello Matthew,

thank you so much for your contribution. I do absolute understand your perspective here.
On the other hand i do not think that in this first interview we talking about here, a set of requirements or concrete deliverables could be expected.
Furthermore this interview and the asked questions should help the project manager and his/her team to develop this set/list of requirements/deliverables. What do you think?

You wrote: " ... The first thing I ask the sponsor is what they want the final product or service to do. ..."

I think this is exactly the right path here; do you think the following questions do reflect your purpose here?:

"What do you perceive the main functions and features to be?

What are the absolute minimum ("do or die") functions/features that are required?

What are your thoughts on its physical appearance?"

Regards,

Markus
Hello Markus,

You are correct, we should not expect a complete list of requirements or deliverables from the first meeting. Often, however, I am provided with some high level requirements and, additionally, one or more deliverables required by a contract with a customer. What I was attempting to convey is that if I receive any requirements or deliverables from the sponsor I review them as part of that initial meeting. Call it an initial review to identify anything that is infeasible - e.g., you want me to lead a project to produce a passenger aircraft capable of reaching mach 6 using turbofan engines; or you want me to lead a project to design an internal combustion engine made with metal that has a thermodynamic efficiency of 75%.

"What do you perceive the main functions and features to be?" - Yes, I like this question. I would still ask "What do you want it to do?" because that question is about overall functionality. With your question we start delving a bit into the details - which is good. I want to understand the overall desired capability, however, in case it becomes infeasible to deliver a product/service with all of the main functions and features within the time or budget constraints. Understanding the overall desired capability allows me to look for alternative solutions.

As an example, suppose your overall desired capability was for the project to design a passenger car capable of traveling 25 km per liter. If you give me a requirement to use a non-turbocharged diesel-powered engine it will be difficult for the project to succeed unless I can make changes to other things to reduce the weight of the vehicle, improve its aerodynamic efficiency, etc. Those changes, however, might require changing one or more of the main functions and/or features. If I don't understand the overall desired capability then the project is heading towards failure because all I know is I can't deliver the main functions or features within the constraints.

"What are the absolute minimum ("do or die") functions/features that are required?" - Call it a personal quirk, but I don't like asking what is the absolute minimum required. To me that question implies striving for mediocrity instead of excellence. I prefer asking "What functions/features must be included?" If something must be included it is part of the minimally acceptable baseline, but I've avoided asking what is the minimum.

"What are your thoughts on its physical appearance?" - Absolutely.

Also: "Is there anything you do not want the product/service to do?" Maybe the product/service is intended to complement one or more products/services the company already produces. If stakeholders tell me during the Collect Requirements process they want functionality provided by the other products/services, I know to exclude those requirements. Or maybe there is a legal limit to what the product/service can do.
...
1 reply by Markus Kopko, PMP
Nov 17, 2016 7:55 AM
Markus Kopko, PMP
...
Hi Matthew,

wow, thanks a ton for this contribution and response! Very valuable and i will definitively consider your points.

This is exactly the kind of answer/contribution i have wished for with my intentional posting.

Thanks a lot a gain.

I will provide the other questions i do already have collected for your guys review, but first i want to wait a bit more if somebody else comes with additional questions, so please stay tuned. ;)

Regards,

Markus
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