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The Project Assassin - Preventing Sponsorship

One of the most successful weapons in the Project Assassin's armoury and one which can be used either for an outright kill or a "vampire strike" (creation of a "living dead" project which fails to deliver but keeps on running) is the prevention of sponsorship and removal of any direction from a project.

Zero to many

Best is the complete absence of a project Sponsor, as in the golden age when the word "Sponsor" was only uttered by charities trying to relieve people of their money. Companies who have heard of "sponsorship" may be persuaded that it is just the latest fad of management consultants and will soon be overtaken by the next idea. Even when the concept has infected an organisation, the approach works for "infrastructure projects". That phrase convinces people that the project is being done solely for the benefit of "the infrastructure" and has no need for business sponsorship.

Masquerading as stakeholder involvement, the multiple Sponsor approach is particularly attractive and difficult to reverse. Demoting one of the Sponsors is rarely acceptable; bringing in someone more senior can be equally disruptive. For its combination of apparently impeccable motivation, effectiveness and permanence it is second to none.

Ensuring the wrong Sponsor

Having the "wrong" (or as we might say "right") Sponsor can take several forms.

Making a provider rather than a customer Sponsor is popular with the provider and guarantees a cost rather than benefit focus for the project. Internal providers will focus on completion and delivery; external providers will have the purer motivation of payment, even if they speak continually of "partnership". It is strange but useful that managers who would not dream of asking the sharply dressed salesman who visits them twice a year to decide what their company should purchase are quite content to have their IT Director sponsoring a new network.

Arranging for as junior a Sponsor as possible is very effective. Someone whose operational responsibilities do not quite extend across all those materially affected is a good choice as they lack the necessary authority without it being immediately evident.

Obtaining too senior a Sponsor will not work for big projects, but can be extremely effective for localised change. Going over the head of the "natural Sponsor" is an excellent way to gain their opposition to the project. The Sponsor takes a detached role as the project is never high on his agenda.

Changing Sponsor or ignoring him

Continually changing the Sponsor is another good strategy, as the vision for the project is unlikely to stay consistent. Where identification of an organization or role as Sponsor does not result in multiple Sponsors it causes continuous change.

Ignoring the Sponsor is a last resort. Extreme care must be taken but some success may be achieved by:

A less dangerous variant is ensuring that there is an intermediary between the Project Manager and Sponsor. Line managers are eager to assist and Programme Managers, who are often unclear about their roles, are very valuable in this situation.