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Book Review: Project Sponsorship
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Book Review: Project Sponsorship by Randall Englund and Alfonso Bucero

Project Sponsorship: Achieving Management Commitment for Project Success

Written by: Randall Englund and Alfonso Bucero. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006. 201+xvii pages. 
Reviewed by: Gerald Mulenburg

Project Sponsorship

In this, the third book on important project management topics by Randall Englund, he and co-author Alfonso Bucero address one of the most glaring contributions to project failure, project sponsorship. Their expressed purpose for the book, therefore, is to “explore best practices in project sponsorship” (p. xvii). They define sponsorship as “dealing with people” (p. 20). Aimed primarily at executives and managers, the authors recognize that this idea may be a hard sell, probably due to the lack of understanding by management of the importance of the sponsor's role. Their goal then is to “unlock and open the door of sponsorship” (p. 189), which they achieve through step-by-step guidance and practical advice from their personal knowledge of the subject and their project management experience. They provide both good and bad examples of real- world project sponsorship cases and point out the particular need for project sponsorship in product development organizations to “drive the funding situation” (p. 110).

Although much is already written about the importance of management commitment to project success, it continues to be high on the list of weaknesses causing failures in project management. And this is a puzzling situation; it is after all management's project. They authorized it, and they provide the time and resources to do the work. If a project fails due to lack of management attention, they own that failure. But with this book management can gain an understanding of their own role relative to a project and can acquire some concrete tools to get them off the hook through project sponsorship.

A significant problem and possibly a major impediment to achieving project success is pointed out by the authors as a management bias toward short- term results over long- term improvements in achieving project success. They address this issue early by referencing a broad study identifying that as much as a 70% improvement in project efficiency can be gained through sponsor project support (p. xvi). The authors therefore advocate including sponsorship as a critical assessment factor for projects (p. 189). They also describe a vicious loop of fundamental values that are often ignored and result in short-term, short-sighted goals that they call “integrity crimes” (p. 180). In addressing these issues, which are the missing or at least the weakest link in many project organizations—project sponsorship practices—the authors lay out 10 clear steps to follow on a stairway to excellence in sponsorship. For climbing this stairway to excellence in sponsorship the book describes best practices and provides useful tools (checklists, questionnaires, and templates) to guide the reader's thinking and application of these practices. It begins with recognizing what the sponsor's responsibilities are, with the remaining steps describing how to define and implement an effective sponsorship process. The final level, appropriately, is knowledge management.

In describing how good project sponsorship comes about, the book clearly identifies the sponsor's responsibilities and shows how these influence project success. So, who is this sponsor person? Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language (1996, p. 1843) says it is “a person, who vouches or is responsible for a person or thing.” Usually a senior manager or executive (determined probably by the importance of the project), sponsors are described in the book as acting as a parachute for the project manager, “both a supplier and protector of resources” (p. 7). A sponsor initiates, funds, and supports the project from its inception through its completion (p. 186). Although focused on the role of sponsors for projects, the authors highlight other management areas needing attention and don't shy away from other important issues, such as the need for steering committees to support the project sponsor role. Sponsors need to have the skills to coach, mentor, and guide the project managers with whom they must work and who are dependent on their sponsors' support. Many, if not most, sponsors have never managed a project but can help create the right environment to keep the project work on track (p. 18). But to be effective, sponsors need both training and practice in their role.

However, it is the project manager's job to get the work done. The project manager owns, and is responsible for, the territory within the triple constraints of cost, schedule, and scope. The sponsor holds the key to everything outside of these three constraints that can affect the project and, therefore, plays a major role in optimizing project outcomes through excellence in project sponsorship. There is much to distract the project manager from getting the work done that the sponsor can help with to keep the work on track. A close relationship between the sponsor and project manager can prevent, or at least reduce, many of these distractions. Providing a means to escalate problems outside of the project manager's control is what the sponsor-project manager relationship is all about. Major known threats identified for project managers are changing requirements, delays due to reduced resources or delays in receiving them, and meddling by managers, customers, and perhaps other stakeholders of the project. The authors prescribe the use of stakeholder analysis to identify and determine how to deal with this situation. The book concludes with a cogent discussion of knowledge management to continue improving project sponsorship.

The goal of almost any organization involved with product development is to realize its strategy through projects. These authors use both personal knowledge and practical worldwide experience in describing their ideas of what's wrong and of what needs to be done and in providing realistic approaches for how to do it. They offer practical methods for correctly choosing and guiding sponsors and, as you might expect, emphasize that good relationships formed through good communication are at the core of their advice. The book also provides some helpful guidance to project managers for managing their sponsors and other managers that this reviewer would have liked to have seen expanded to increase the scope of the book. (Maybe the subject of a future book?) It would also have been nice if the text had conveyed a greater sense of urgency for management to adequately recognize project sponsorship as a real competitive advantage so that it can gain the attention it deserves from organizational management. This book is, nonetheless, a great treatment of an important topic in today's product development and project management.

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