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Outcomes not Outputs

Another thumping good read dropped onto the doormat this morning in the shape of New Civil Engineer magazine. The problem of air pollution is brought into sharp focus by an OECD graph which shows that air pollution currently accounts for 3 million premature deaths globally every year, with that set to rise to 9 million by the year 2060. The EU and Russia are the only regions charted which show a significant fall in predicted air pollution deaths, whilst India and China deaths are predicted to more than double.

Another chart shows that UK CO2 emissions arising from power generation have fallen from 180 metric tonnes in 2005 to 100 metric tonnes in 2015. However transport hasn’t improved, with 130 Mt in 2005 and 130 Mt in 2015. So it is not surprising that other articles focus on how transport can be made greener.

There is an interesting piece on aviation with an eye-catching photo of a blended wing aircraft being developed by Boeing and NASA. The idea seems to be that by making the aircraft virtually all wing, and putting the seats in the wing, you end up with something much more efficient. Other, perhaps less ambitious developments, include making the drink and food carts lighter as well as other items like seats.

Of course we don’t have to be aircraft engineers to save a life. We can avoid unnecessary car journeys by walking or cycling where possible. Apparently just 20 minutes brisk walking a day brings us significant health benefits, yet only a third of Londoners report achieving this much activity. In Scotland physical inactivity results in 2,500 premature deaths a year, seven a day. There is a great article describing how we can make our city streets more pedestrian friendly through simple things like de-cluttering pavements to remove extraneous signs, improving crossings, providing seating and public toilets on walking routes.

I checked the front cover, when I wondered if I was the victim of an April fool story, but no, putting cat litter into concrete really is a way to cut CO2 emissions. There is a Bath University research project showing that the absorbent granules present in cat litter can be used to carry a material which can absorb or release heat depending on temperature, thereby helping to keep a building at a constant temperature.

In the editorial, civil engineers are asked to open their (our) minds and learn more quickly what people need; to be focussed on outcomes rather than outputs. Sounds like Project Sponsorship to me.


Project Sponsor Job Qualification

I note some interest in Project Sponsor job qualifications. Firstly a project sponsor must know his organization very well. He or she must really understand what it is trying to achieve through the project. The sponsor must be a great communicator, able to translate jargon between the organization and the project manager. The sponsor also owns the business case and is the guardian of the organization’s investment, so a good understanding of the business case and project appraisal is necessary.

Click for a table from my book detailing factors necessary in a Project Sponsor

Factors necessary in a Project Sponsor

So to add to experience within the organization I would suggest an MBA and perhaps a PRINCE2 practitioner qualification. Or you could read my book.


Critical Infrastructure and Project Sponsorship

The inspiration for today’s post comes from CIR magazine, that’s Continuity Insurance & Risk. There is an article called Critical Element which is about ageing infrastructure.  Key facts it draws on are:

  • 87% of top executives polled by the Economist believe ageing infrastructure has had a recent impact on their business and 10% say it has caused severe problems that they are still trying to address.
  • World urban population is forecast to grow by 5 billion by 2030
  • The number of megacities (those with more than 10 million inhabitants) will rise from 23 to 37 in the same period
  • US$ 3.2 trillion per year for the next 15 years is needed to fund required infrastructure

The article also states that 70% of infrastructure investors are achieving or exceeding their target internal rates of return. Sounds good, but I suppose that also means that 30% are not. I’ve always been good at maths.

So the conclusion I draw is that there is a huge need for engineers and project managers to deliver infrastructure and likewise for project sponsors to safeguard the investment and push that 70% hitting targeted return towards 100%.


Project Management vs. Programme Management

English: Apollo insignia. Italiano: Stemma del...

English: Apollo insignia. Italiano: Stemma del programma Apollo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once again the inspiration for this post comes from the letter pages of the NCE (New Civil Engineer) where in this week’s issue there is some discussion on the difference between project and programme management. I remember attending a conference many years ago on the subject of programme management (or program management in the US). There were three speakers whose views stuck in my mind, although sadly their names didn’t.

  • Speaker one said that a programme is a portfolio of projects, where although the projects are discrete and of a size to warrant project teams in their own right, they each build towards an overall business objective.
  • Speaker two talked about programme management in terms of the resource and task management aspects. It came across as though he thought programme management was a senior planner type role.
  • Speaker three summed up by saying that if you know where you are and what you’re trying to achieve then you have a project, whereas if you don’t know where you are or what you’re trying to achieve then you have a programme.

I find it easiest to think about the difference between projects and programmes by reference to the Apollo space program. The objective of the programme had been set out by John F. Kennedy in his televised speech to a joint session of congress on 25th May 1961. Surely nobody could doubt that the endeavour to plan, design, build and successfully complete each Apollo mission represented a project in its own right. I’m also fairly sure that NASA were building towards the stated objective without much certainty at the beginning how many projects it was going to require.

One of the letters in NCE is from leading academics at the Bartlett School of Construction and Project Management. They have undertaken research showing that there is a significant left shift in the skills required to be a project or programme manager, by which they mean the focus is moving to the very early stage scoping and shaping phase of a project with the project sponsor.

I’m sure that’s true because that early phase is vital to the success of a project and project sponsors often lack the requisite skills and or time. My book Project Sponsorship: An Essential Guide for Those Sponsoring Projects Within Their Organizations published by Gower is my attempt to address the first problem but there’s little I can do to address the second other than encourage project managers to also develop the necessary skills and lend a hand.

In terms of project and programme controls as discussed by the second speaker, it is certainly true that, owing to the enhanced complexity and uncertainty of a programme, the schedule, programme and project controls must be even more thought through than for a project.

PRINCE2 & Project Sponsorship the Sequel

The PRINCE2 process model

The PRINCE2 process model (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Yesterday I took the PRINCE2 Practitioner examination, having passed the foundation examination on Wednesday. One further point to make on what PRINCE2 has to say on the subject of Project Sponsorship is that the Project Sponsor role is split into Executive and Senior User. During the project the Executive is the decision maker on the Project Board (which also includes the Senior User and Senior Supplier). The Executive oversees the business case, represents the business interest and ensures that the project is aligned with corporate strategies. The Senior User, as the title implies, represents the users of the project product and has a key role in defining the product requirements and quality expectations. At the end of the project the Executive role dissolves and the Senior User is held accountable for ensuring the the expected benefits are realised.




Project Owner vs. Project Sponsor

Every so often I type project sponsor into google and see what the suggested search terms return. This is apparently a good way to see what people are trying to discover on the subject. There seems to be some interest in the difference between project sponsor and project owner. In my book on project sponsorship I certainly state that the project sponsor “owns” the business case for the project, but I don’t use the term “project owner”.

There seem to be three schools of thought.

1) Project Owner is simply another name for Project Sponsor

2) The Project Owner is the person who has most of the tasks and resources of the project within their department

3) The Project Owner is the head of the business unit placing the order, i.e. the customer. This is part of the definition on the ict (information and communications technology) standard forum.

PRINCE2 says that all projects have three primary stakeholders.

1) Business Sponsors

2) Users

3) Suppliers

The PRINCE2 term for Project Sponsor is Executive. The Executive is responsible for the business case and has to balance the demands of the business, the user and the supplier. So I’m afraid that the schools of thought for Project Owner seem to be wandering between these three PRINCE2 stakeholders.

I think it’s helpful if titles are a useful guide to the role of the titleholder. Nevertheless the most important thing is that there are competent people taking responsibility for the roles identified in PRINCE2:

1) Business sponsor / Project Sponsor / Executive = responsible for the business case.

2) Senior User = representing those who will use the project’s products

3) Senior Supplier / Project Manager / Project Director = controller of all the consultants, contractors, suppliers etc. delivering the project.

So try not to worry about titles, just make sure that these roles are competently filled for your project.

Here are a few more related posts you may find useful

The Project Sponsor Project Manager Relationship – Butch & Sundance or Laurel & Hardy?

Project Management vs. Programme Management

PRINCE2 & Project Sponsorship

How to make engineers more entrepreneurial

The editorial in this week’s New Civil Engineer (NCE) magazine reports on the CBI/KPMG annual infrastructure survey. The World Economic Forum ranks the UK a lowly 24th for overall infrastructure quality and the survey found that 61% of businesses feel that UK infrastructure compares unfavourably with other European competitors and that only 35% of firms believe that the current government policies will provide the impetus for private investment.
NCE editor Antony Oliver thinks part of the answer to the UK’s crumbling and congested infrastructure is for engineers to be more like Brunel and “embrace the economic and political aspects of our infrastructure ideas.” He draws on bridge architect Martin Knight for an example. Knight spoke at last week’s Future of Design conference and looked at Brunel’s Maidenhead Bridge on the Great Western Railway. Many will know that it is the world’s flattest brick arch. It is certainly a beautiful bridge but I didn’t know that it was designed to flatten the railway alignment and therefore reduce the amount of fuel used by trains and thereby provide greater returns to investors.
So how do engineers “embrace the economic and political aspect” of their infrastructure ideas? Well they need to think like the investors and consider every aspect of the business case. They need to develop skills in stakeholder analysis and be able to identify the relative positions and power of stakeholders. In short they need to extend the project management skills that many engineers learn on the job into project sponsorship.

The Elusive Project Sponsor

I continue to be delighted by the broad range of intelligent debate taking place within the Project Sponsors group on LinkedIn. The most recent discussion stems from a Sherlock Holmes episode in which the criminal mastermind has fled by the time Holmes and the police arrive at his lair. Holmes is disappointed but Doctor Watson points out that the police now know who the criminal is and have a good idea where he has gone. So the question asked of the group is “Is relative success the answer?” The debate continues. Anyway, the disappearance of the criminal mastermind reminded me of my article featured in Wellingtone in February and I thought you might like to read it here.

The Elusive Project Sponsor
A LinkedIn group has recently been formed for Project Sponsors. It has grown to 559 members in two months and has the most vibrant discussions of any group I have seen. Some of the topics are now spilling across into the APM group.
A common theme seems to be the availability (or lack of it) of a project sponsor and how detrimental a sponsor’s absence is to a project. Even when project sponsors are present, there seem to be few commentators impressed with their level of project knowledge or ability.

What is a Project Sponsor supposed to do?
Organizations exist in a dynamic and competitive environment. They must continually anticipate changes in their environment and reinvent themselves to suit, otherwise they will die. Projects are the vehicle of change. The need for change may be sensed and nurtured in any part of an organization but at some point a project will be conceived and from thence forth it requires a sponsor. The Project Sponsor will develop the project vision, evaluate different options to bring about the desired change, weigh anticipated benefits against estimated costs and then seek investment authority from the organization’s board. If successful the Project Sponsor will then “own” the business case and be the guardian of the organization’s investment.
The Project Sponsor will hire a Project Manager to translate the Vision into reality within cost, time and performance constraints.
Once the Project Sponsor feels that the Project Manager understands the vision and constraints, the Project Sponsor should begin planning for the day when the project is handed back to the organization. Whether the project is IT or Infrastructure, the organization has to change itself to realize the benefits anticipated from, and justifying the project. For example a benefit of a new automated factory might be reduced headcount. A Project Manager tasked with building the factory is unlikely to be responsible for also arranging redundancies or job transfers. But they do need to be planned for.
The Project Sponsor is guardian of the investment and therefore if costs rise or delays creep in it is his or her duty to re-assess the business case and check that the project is still justified. This is an on-going task but formalized as Project Governance with Gateway Reviews at critical points before the next significant tranche of investment. If necessary it is the Project Sponsor who must call for cancellation of the project.
In summary, the Project Sponsor is responsible for:

Why are Project Sponsors so elusive?
I suspect that this is due to misunderstanding of project sponsorship by both organizations and by project managers. Organizations are sometimes reluctant to delegate project sponsorship and will either retain it at board level or consider it the Project Manager’s responsibility. Either course is potentially fatal to the project, and the organization. If the board retain it, then there is no single person responsible. One of the downsides of collective ownership is Groupthink in which groups take greater risks than individuals. A problem shared is a problem halved, except that in this case it isn’t. It’s blame that’s shared. If the organization thinks that the Project Manager should be responsible for project sponsorship then, amongst other errors, they are asking him or her to be self-policing.
I also detect a contradictory desire in some project managers for a sponsor to both not interfere and also be a kind of senior project manager. It seems to be part of human nature that we always need a higher authority that we can refer to in times of need. Let’s be clear, project sponsors are not senior project managers. They have a very different role and responsibilities.

What does the Project Sponsor – Project Manager relationship look like?
An hourglass. The Project Sponsor and Project Manager stand back to back at the neck (or waist) of the hourglass with the Project Manager facing the consultants and contractors engaged to deliver the project and the Project Sponsor facing the organization’s departments and stakeholders with an investment in the project and / or affected by it. They depend on each other for the success of the project. They must have trust in each other, and meet regularly, but the Project Sponsor is likely to have a day job too.

Is the poor view of Project Sponsors justified?
As a Project Manager my experience of Project Sponsors has always been very good and I like to think that the same has been true on the projects where I have been Sponsor.
However, despite my grey hair my experience is limited and there is every reason to believe that project sponsorship is lacking. Despite the importance of project sponsorship it is not a profession. There is no Association for Project Sponsorship or Project Sponsorship Institute to encourage education and qualification of project sponsors. The APM and PMI do reach out to influence project sponsorship but at arms length via project managers.
We expect rather a lot of project sponsors, even discounting the erroneous expectations. We expect them to understand the organization’s business and corporate strategy very well. We expect them to have good relationships with the board, all departments affected and external stakeholders. We expect them to have a thorough grasp of the business case and an understanding of project management. That’s a rare animal indeed.
When I put forward my author’s proposal to Gower Publishing I searched Amazon and found that there were over 35,000 books on project management and only one on project sponsorship. As an economy we need organizations that survive and grow through projects that add real value and as an industry we need to raise the awareness of project sponsorship and help project sponsors understand and fulfil their role.

About the author
David West graduated with a masters degree in Engineering Science from the University of Oxford, and later added an MBA. He is a chartered civil engineer, member of the Association for Project Management and also the Institute of Risk Management. He has worked on projects in the power, nuclear, petro-chemical, building, leisure, health, defence, rail, and development sectors. He has worked right across the project spectrum including roles as: designer, design manager, site manager, construction manager, project manager, project sponsor, risk manager, business unit manager, developer and project sponsor. He has also taught on the Open University MBA programme. He is the author of Project Sponsorship: An Essential Guide for Those Sponsoring Projects Within Their Organizations, ISBN 978-0566088889 published by Gower. David is a Senior Technical Director with WSP, a global design engineering and management consultancy specializing in Property, Transport & Infrastructure, Industry and Environment projects. Information about his Project Sponsorship paperback book can be found at and Project Sponsorship ebook at

A wake up call

As I drove to the station this morning I heard on the radio that Kodak, who invented the hand-held camera, has filed for bankruptcy. The name Kodak is synonymous with film, for those grey-hairs amongst us, and they simply weren’t able to adapt to the digital age. One of the things I learnt from studying for a MBA with the Open University was STEEPLE, an acronym for remembering the environmental factors that can affect an organization and which should be constantly monitored for change.
I also remembered writing the chapter The Value of Project Sponsorship to the Organization in my book. I gave examples of how technology is changing ever faster, citing the long reign of 78s followed by vinyl, then CDs and now digital music and followed up with “The transition from film to digital photography is a similar example of technological change matching and stimulating customer demand and in the process completely changing the status quo of an industry.”
My first thought was sorrow for the loss of another great name from my childhood. My first camera was a Kodak and it was my favourite film. Then a feeling of panic crept up on me. Not at the unrelenting advance of age, rather a concern that I might not be applying STEEPLE as rigorously to my personal investment portfolio as I do at work. I tend to follow the advice about investing for the long term and I also don’t like paying brokers for constantly buying and selling. It is a policy that has worked well for me, but have I got a Kodak in there? I thought it through and I haven’t, yet. However my Carnival shares took a knock this week with the tragic loss of the Costa Concordia and the infinitely greater tragedy of (so far) eleven lives lost and over twenty missing. Sadly I don’t think STEEPLE would have helped anyone there. How do you stop a captain (who’s pretty much a god on board his ship) from doing a daft thing, from showing off perhaps? It’s a lesson the banking industry might be interested in too. I also noted, from this morning’s radio, the campaign to strip a former captain of the banking world of his knighthood; gets my vote, I have shares in RBS too!
Perhaps we should look at the airline industry. There has been a problem there with captains getting it wrong and first officers being reluctant to question their judgement. Fortunately much research, effort and training has gone into making the airline cockpit more of a team environment, with the result that we don’t often get airliners flying close to tower blocks to waggle their wings at ex-colleagues. It’s called Cockpit Resource Management or CRM. To quote Robert J. Bosier at “It has contributed significantly towards the prevention of “pilot error” accidents; it has saved airplanes and lives. But there seems to be great reluctance to even discuss the idea that there are times when the captain’s authority must be countermanded. It is clear, from the accidents noted above, crashes could have been prevented if the second-in-command had overruled the captain.” Let’s all learn from that.

Straying off course

PMI have just published an interview with me in the career section of their website. I am of course delighted to help budding project managers and project sponsors set out on their journey in this great industry.
At the end of the interview I am asked about lessons learnt. One of the lessons that I pick out is that you must brief people carefully on their tasks and then keep reinforcing the message at regular intervals, because people can so easily and quickly stray off course.
I’ve done a number of interviews for PMI and other organizations this year, following publication by Gower of my book, “Project Sponsorship: An Essential Guide to Those Sponsoring Projects Within Their Organizations”, and they tend to be done via e-mail because I’m in London and the journalist is in Chicago for example. Typically I am asked if I’d be prepared to be interviewed on a subject, I agree and then the journalist e-mails over a set of questions. I answer the questions and send them back. The journalist may ask a couple of follow up questions which I also answer and send back. A few weeks later another journalist e-mails over a fact check in which a small number of statements that I’ve made I am asked to check. Sometimes I’ll correct something and other times I’ll confirm. Then the article is published before I’ve seen the whole thing.
As with this article in the career section, the finished article is well written, informative and fairly accurate. But there are always errors. They’re minor errors that don’t spoil the message, and it’s easy to see how they occur. One error that appeared several times in the past, which we seem now to have overcome, is that I would always state that I am a Senior Technical Director working for WSP, an Engineering Consultancy based in London. The journalist kept changing London to Swindon. I know why, my LinkedIn profile has my location as Swindon. I don’t even live in Swindon, it’s just that from the selection of locations available on LinkedIn, Swindon is nearest to my home. The beautiful Georgian city of Bath is nearer, but it isn’t listed on LinkedIn (or wasn’t when I created my profile, I must check). After correcting this the second time, I was asked if I was sure that I worked in London and it wasn’t just that WSP are headquartered in London. I suppose it’s part of the journalist’s training to check sources, but I think I know better where I work than the journalist does.
So, pulling myself back onto message after my slight rant, even if you’ve done everything you can to brief your team clearly and accurately they will stray off course. This will happen for the best of reasons and maybe you want to check that the course they’ve strayed onto isn’t actually a better course than the one you set. Either way, as a project manager or project sponsor you will need to keep checking.

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