Managing a Change in Project Sponsor

You're managing a project and suddenly the client's project sponsor changes. How should you best handle that?

About the Author: Gary Galvin

March 30, 2011

We launched a website project two weeks ago and when we went back to meet with the client we learned something interesting as it relates to expectations – the new project sponsor was not fully aware of the complete scope.  So it got me thinking about how to better manage a situation where the client’s project sponsor changes. 

When a new project sponsor enters into a project it seems common that they have their own expectations, assumptions and initiatives that could be different from the project charter, requirements and ultimately approved scope.  Here are a few suggestions on managing a successful change in project sponsors.

  • Stop the Project, Meet with the Project Sponsor – OK, you may not have the luxury of stopping the project but you should at least create a meeting to get to know the sponsor.  This seems obvious but could easily get missed.
  • Review Project Status to Date – The project manager should review the project players, timeline, budget and status to date.  Give the new project sponsor a real good understanding about everything from the start to when they got involved.
  • Explain the Project Requirements and Use Cases – Go over the documented requirements and the use cases of the project.
  • Fill the Gaps- By now the new project sponsor should have a good understanding of the project. So this is a good opportunity for the project manager to understand any new expectations or requirements of the new project sponsor.  These should be documented and the gaps should be determined and discussed with the new project sponsor.  These gaps will most likely incur more cost and time so the project manager and the project sponsor can now openly discuss these new initiatives.
  • Assume Change Order – In the project scope or project charter put an assumption in there that if the project sponsor changes the client will incur a change order.  This is considered a change in scope and  requires additional time to be placed on the project team.  But, just like everything else, you need to set this expectation upfront.

I am very grateful to our client for alerting us that there was a misunderstanding as it relates to approved scope.  This goes to show that there are still three very important things a project manager must always do – communicate, communicate, communicate.  By communicating often our client was able to have a very positive and open conversation with us about this.  If you are reading this – thank you.

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