While working on a project, I realized the project team was not clear on the roles and responsibilities of the project sponsor VS the project manager.

Who’s the sponsor anyway?

The project sponsor is the person who pays for the project. Because he or she is paying for the project, they get to decide on the project scope, schedule and budget. They’re the ones really taking the big decisions.

Don’t confuse sponsor and client, however. The person who buys the product is not necessarily the one investing in its development. For example, we develop AceProject and then sell it to our clients. The clients get the product after the development project is completed.While their opinions are very important to the development process, they are not the ones funding the project.

When we are developing custom features for a client,  then the client is also the sponsor, because they are privately funding the project. Otherwise, the project sponsor here at Websystems is Daniel, our President.

What about the project manager, then?

The project manager makes sure things get done. The project manager takes the sponsor’ decisions on the scope, schedule and budget, and does her best to deliver what’s required.  The project manager does not take decisions as to which features get developed, or how long the team has to do the work. That’s the sponsor’s job.

Imagine you’re going sailing

Let’s say your team is the crew of a sailboat. In this case, the sponsor (that would be the captain) decides where the boat goes, and when it should arrive. The sponsor also decides how big the crew will be. These decisions are transmitted to the project manager, who organizes the work shifts, works out an itinerary, and does everyting in her power to motivate the troops and get the boat where it’s expected to be, when it’s expected to arrive.

If something happens and the project manager realizes that the boat can’t reach its destination on time, she takes that problem to the sponsor, who decides what to do about it.

The travelers on that boat (the clients) just enjoy the ride.

Everyone on your team should understand this

Understanding the differences between sponsor, client and project manager is crucial to your team working well together. When things aren’t clear, people will make up their version of the truth, and it’s rarely what it should be.