As part of MPUG’s 2018 Community Survey, we asked the question, “Are you getting the feedback you need from program sponsors?” The results came in, and we learned that over 50% of you thought this area needed improvement. Another 18% of you said an affirmative “NO” in answer to this question, which led us to ask a few weeks back, what is going on with your project sponsors?

Well, we received a “winner” nightmare story, which is published anonymously below:

I once had a sponsor that knew he needed someone to be in charge of projects. The problem was he just had a serious disdain for all Project Managers. He also had a strong dislike of any sort of formality at all. He would determine what project his department was going to work on, and then he would get someone to be in charge of the project. It was usually a Project Manager, but if someone was in the hallway at the wrong time and made eye contact with him, they might find themselves in charge of something they hadn’t quite bargained for.

After an informal discussion or phone call with the new PM to kick off the project, he’d assume the person was off and running. Of course, he wouldn’t commit to anything on paper. Project definition was always extremely brief and rarely helpful. It was always something generic and short such as, “Create Report on XYZ for me.” For a large project, it might be a whole sentence, but something like, “Create a new website portal that allows customers make payments.”

To make matters worse, his projects always seemed to be IT centric, even though his department was not IT. It would be up to the PM to go to IT and get the appropriate resources, or go around IT, if needed, since this sponsor didn’t see the need for system or app congruity. Getting detailed information out of him was difficult. Your best bet was to hope the project idea was generated by someone else. At least then you could quiz them about the project and/or dig for the requirements.

Of course, budget, time, and scope were never defined, and therefore never achieved by the Project Manager. And it was always the PM’s fault for not hitting the targets–you know the one’s that were only in the sponsor’s head. Since nothing was documented when he presented the results of these projects to his equals or superiors, they were always promoted as on time, on budget, and the outcome exactly what was desired from the beginning.

Many Project Managers, including myself, did our own documentation as an attempt to protect ourselves. We collected unanswered emails and scope documents that were not signed, but it seemed he was still always able to place the blame on the poor person who couldn’t possibly read his mind.

Naturally, he was promoted to a higher functional level in the organization. I guess due to the fact that his department functioned ok overall—or was it because he was so good at getting projects done on time, on budget, and always within the un-defined scope?