Is it possible that in an organization with weak or limited project sponsor capability, the project management office (PMO) could act as a sponsor for smaller projects? It is surely better to do this rather than not use sponsors at all. If a particular project is in direct support of the organization’s project practices (e.g., implementing Microsoft Project Server), then the PMO will make a good sponsor.

The PMO also might be a politically acceptable body to provide discrete support for project sponsors should it be required (and if, of course, the project sponsors acknowledge they need help). Because the PMO is the governing body for the organization’s project methodology and standards, it is natural that its duties would also include sponsorship tasks and deliverables. The PMO could easily and sensitively provide coaching and advice upon request.

It could also be the PMO’s role to garner and disseminate lessons learned to the project community, including issues with sponsorship capability.

Think about which of the key sponsorship activities might be suitable for a PMO to offer, as some form of interim resource. Which ones might a PMO not be able to offer in any effective way?

A PMO may support the board by:

  • Offering leadership for the project. This is possible as long as the PMO representative can operate in some form of objective silo from the rest of the PMO’s project activity.
  • Owning the business case. The PMO needs additional support, in part from a senior executive, to gain the right level of knowledge and independence from the business.
  • Ensuring project is aligned to the business strategy. This could be done as long as the PMO operates at the right level in the organization (i.e., one that is aligned to and involved in the strategic planning activities) and is up-to-date with regard to the organization’s current strategic intention and thought.
  • Governing the risk of the project. The PMO should be easily be able to do this.
  • Engaging and communicates with all stakeholders. This should be achievable as long as the PMO sits at the right level to interact with all stakeholders appropriately.
  • Owning the realization of benefits. This is a challenging one. If the PMO is focused on project success and the mechanics of project delivery and project management development, and more, this may be a step too far for the PMO.
  • Offering assurance of success. The PMO can offer some degree of success assurance, but sometimes the executive may need to provide high-level assistance.
  • Arbitrating as required for the good of the business. This is difficult if the arbitration involves management levels above that of the PMO’s management.
  • Overseeing the process of incorporating lessons learned back into the business. The PMO can and should play a key role here.

A PMO may support the project manager by

  • Being a decision-maker. The PMO can make decisions about project management support if the business grants it the authority to do so.
  • Clarifying issues as required. The PMO must be in the know about the issue at hand to make clarifications.
  • Resolving business issues that impact the project. It’s unlikely that a PMO, however high up in the business, is going to be able to do this without additional executive support.
  • Managing high-level relationships. The PMO can manage such relationships to a degree, as long as its management is mature and experienced. But there may be situations in which there is a need for high-level intervention from the executive.
  • Helping with resourcing challenges. The PMO can assist with resourcing needs but will no doubt have to call upon the goodwill of business managers. Also, situations could arise in which there are major conflicts in resource prioritization and a top-level decision is required.
  • Supporting the project manager. This is a natural role for the PMO, as it is the de facto community of practice for the project managers of the organization (e.g., looking after their training, skill development, and certification).
  • Applying objective comment and guidance. Though this is generally possible, there could be moments of internal conflict when the overall ownership of the PMO’s portfolio of projects has to be considered over and above that of any individual project (or project manager).

PMO may support the project team by

  • Offering leadership of purpose. The PMO can provide such leadership if project team members hold it in high regard.
  • Offering authority and representation of the business. The PMO will need to be backed by some senior executive or management body.
  • Championing the project and help the teams understand the project’s benefits to the organization. The actual business side of the project should do this.

We can see that even the best-intentioned PMO cannot offer everything that a sponsor should provide, but there is still a very strong argument that, in the absence of a project sponsor, the PMO can fill a void. In this case, something is definitely better than nothing.

The above is an extract from a new book called ‘Strategies for Project Sponsorship’ (Management Concepts Press) written with two fellow authors, Ron Rosenhead and Vicki James.