The PM Podcast


Project Management for Beginners and Experts

Episode 141: Tales from the Dark Side of Project Management

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Today's episode is sponsored by the 7th Annual Project Management Conference for the Drug & Device Industry. The conference takes place from April 12-14 2010 at the Orlando World Center Marriott Resort & Convention Center in Orlando Florida. Learn all about cutting-edge tools and techniques to help you lead your team confidently and walk away with clear strategies for achieving project, program and portfolio success. To learn more, please visit www.iirusa.com/pdd.

Cornelius Fichtner, PMPI have a confession to make, and that is that I have moved over to the "dark side" of project management.

Don't worry - I'm neither wearing a black suite, cape or breathing apparatus, nor do I now call myself "Darth Cornelius".

But I have moved from being a Project Manager to the dark side and I'm now... a Project Sponsor. So let's take a look at my very first experience as a project sponsor and to keep it interesting we will hear from 10 other people what they love and hate about their own project sponsors.

Question of the Week:

Do we project managers make good or bad project sponsor? Please leave a comment and let me know!

PM Podcast Episode 141Transcript

Below are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.

Podcast Introduction

Cornelius Fichtner: This is The Project Management Podcast™. We bring project management topics to beginners and experts. Find us on the web at www.pm‑podcast.com or send your emails to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello and welcome to Episode #141. I am Cornelius Fichtner.

This is The Project Management Podcast™ for the 7th of March 2010, nice to have you with us.

Podcast Topic

Cornelius Fichtner: Ladies and gentlemen, I have a confession to make, and that is that I have moved over to the "dark side" of project management. Don't worry, I'm neither wearing a black suite, a cape or a breathing apparatus, nor do I now call myself "Darth Cornelius" at this time. But I have moved from being a Project Manager to the dark side of being a Project Sponsor. So let's take a look at my very first experience as a project sponsor today and to keep it interesting, we will hear from roughly ten other people what they love and hate about their own project sponsors.

Today's episode is sponsored by the 7th Annual Project Management Conference for the Drug and Device Industry. The conference takes place from April 12th to 14th, 2010 at the Orlando World Center Marriott Resort and Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. Learn all about cutting-edge tools and techniques to help you lead your team confidently and walk away with clear strategies for achieving project, program and portfolio success. To learn more, please visit http://www.iirusa.com/pdd.

Before we move on, I owe all of you an apology. My original plan was that there would be a two-week break in February while I was on vacation. Well, three unexpected things happened and because of that it's been almost four weeks now: First I completely forgot to publish the second interview that I had recorded with Jerry Manas. That’s the one for our Premium subscribers. So sorry about that! This interview will go out very soon. Second, I was sick for a whole week and so instead of getting more episodes recorded and ready for you, I was sniffling and coughing on my couch feeling miserable. And then lastly, all my interview guests that I had lined up had to postpone their recordings. So at this point, I'm frantically looking to get another guest lined up for next week’s episode as well. Well, that's the life of a podcaster for you. So I'm really, really sorry that it has been so quiet lately around here on The Project Management Podcast™.

But now enough with these explanations, let's get right into our main topic.

Sometime in February, I did publish an episode in which I presented The PDU Podcast to you if you remember. That is a new, subscription-based podcast that I am currently working on and this project started about five months ago and the PDU Podcast will be eventually be launched on April 2nd, 2010. And just as an aside, if you want more info about this and if you need PDUs, then please go to pducast.com that's P-D-U-C-A-S-T.com. Overall, I'd say that this PDU Podcast project is eating up about 80% of my working time.

But then, about 3 months ago, I had another idea, great idea for yet another product. And that idea, it was simply too good to pass up. I just had to get that other projects started without delay. But I certainly didn't have the bandwidth for it. I was concentrating on the PDU Podcast. That meant I needed to find a project manager who would manage this project for me.

So I went ahead and I contacted a PMP from Arizona whom I had worked with previously. For right now, well, let’s call him "George". So George agreed to take on this project. We had a deal and I was suddenly a project sponsor. This alone led to my first problem.

As an experienced project manager, I knew exactly how I would approach this project because well, I had all the details for the project in my head. I could have told you exactly what steps I would have performed on this project. I knew what I'd do first, second, third and how I'd run things and what documents I create, et cetera. But a) I didn't have the time to do all of these because I was focusing on the PDU Podcast and b) I didn't want to micromanage George.

And just between you and me, the risk that I'm micromanaging him on this project is actually my greatest fear. You know that as a project manager, we sometimes have the tendency that we don't want to give tasks to our team members because well "nobody but me can do this in the quality that I want on my project". So we either do these tasks ourselves or we hesitantly assign them to someone else but then we breathe down their necks on each and every step. And trust me as the project sponsor, I certainly didn't and still don’t want to do that to George. I wanted to be able to let him run with this project and do it according to project management best practices. And this frankly is something very difficult to do because you have continuously keep that at the forefront of your mind.

So in order to convey all of this information that's in my head to George, we both figured that a project charter was in order. So we had our kickoff meeting, a teleconference, and we discussed the project at a very high-level. After this, he created a charter that went back and forth a few times between us. Well actually, it didn't go between us because we use online Google documents for this. So we simply edited the same document online until we got a relatively final version.

But out of this process, came my first lessons learned and that is a new appreciation for "the other side" – the dark side that I’m now on here. It really isn't easy to explain to your project manager what a project is all about in this early stage. I tried my best and George certainly created a good project charter. But it needed my input here and there so that it would in fact represent what I had really wanted this project to do.

So here is my first recommendation to you: Once you have the charter finished as a project manager, don't just send it to your project sponsor and say "Hey, is this what you wanted?" Instead, set up a meeting with her or with him and go through the charter, review it, clarify it, add more detail. Remember the intention of a project charter and indeed the intention of every single template and document that you create or use on your project is not just to simply sit there and mindlessly fill in the gaps. The intention is to use this template, this document to clarify, specify and detail the information the template or form contains so that you, your sponsor, your project team, whoever is working on this document gets a better and more in depth understanding of the project. That’s what templates and documents are meant to do.

I promised you that we would hear from about ten people regarding what they hate and love about their project sponsors. What I did is I reached out to my followers on Twitter and I asked them to send me a short tweet about what they hate, love about their project sponsors and here is the first one from Alex Navarro. He is a project manager from Mexico. He says: What I hate is that the project sponsor simply offers his or her full support and sponsorship without any idea of what the project is.

And a similar one came from Walter Mena. He is from Costa Rica and his bio reads that he is a project manager, IT professional with 10+ years in the IT and IS field and he is also interested in PMO processes. He says he hates “that sometimes the sponsors don't even realise that they are sponsors!"

I think that these two tweets here, they show us the importance that we as project managers have a certain responsibility to "train" our project sponsors and that the period when we work on the charter is a good time to do this. So go take a look at your company's policies and also project role descriptions. Make sure that you understand them and that you present them to your sponsors early on. Make sure that your sponsors know what their role is supposed to be and yes, that they also know what the project is all about.

Let's return to my project here. I understand my personal role as sponsor in the sense that I have to remove any roadblocks that my project manager encounters and that he/she cannot remove himself or herself. Just like I in the role of a project manager understand it in such a way that removing roadblocks for team members which they cannot remove themselves is part of my job. So as a sponsor, I do this on a higher level. A case in point was the first task that George had to work on was a competitor analysis as well as a tool comparison.

And this is probably where I made my first mistake.

Above are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only. Please subscribe to our Premium Podcast to receive a PDF transcript.

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