Understand the role of the sponsor in scope change management

When you're managing scope on your project, keep the following three items in mind as it relates to the sponsor.

Many problems related to scope change management are based on not understanding the role of a sponsor in this important project management process. In general, the sponsor is the person who is funding the project and is accountable to the organization to make sure the business value of the project is achieved. If the client were embodied in one person, it would be the sponsor. Sometimes the sponsor is high up in your organization and is not accessible to fulfill the role on a day-to-day basis. In these cases, the sponsor should delegate authority to one of their direct reports so that you have someone to go to when managing scope change on your project.

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When you're managing scope on your project, keep the following three items in mind as it relates to the sponsor.

Make sure the sponsor approves scope changes—not end users

End users are the people that use the solution that the project team is building. The end users are the ones that will generally make requests for changes to deliverables. It doesn't matter how important a change is to an end user, the end users can't make scope change decisions. In proper scope change management, the sponsor (or their designate) must give the approval. The end users can request scope changes, but they can't approve them. The end user can't allocate additional funding to cover the changes and they can't know if the project impact is acceptable. If the change is important enough to the sponsor, the change will be approved, along with the appropriate budget and duration. If the change isn't important enough, it won't be approved. However, it will be the Sponsor making the decision—not the project manager, client manager, project team or end users.

Saying "yes" to scope change requests is not good client focus

The project manager and project team sometimes think that they are being client focused by accepting scope changes while still trying to deliver the project within the original commitments. However, if the project is delivered late or over budget, it's usually not good enough to point out all the additional work that was included because of this "client focus." The sponsor (and your own manager) doesn't want to hear about it. In most cases, the project will not be seen as totally successful since it didn't deliver as promised within the agreed upon budget and delivery date. The project manager is not the right person to say "yes" to a scope change request (or to say "no"). The sponsor is the primary client representative. Allowing the sponsor to make scope change decisions shows good client focus.

An engaged sponsor will often say "no"

One of the neat things about enforcing the discipline of having the sponsor approve scope change requests is that, unless the change is very important, the sponsor will usually say "no." The sponsor is usually someone high in the organization, and normally doesn't want to hear about small scope change requests with small incremental value. They want the original project fulfilled within the original commitments for cost, effort, and duration. Even though it may be hard for the project manager to say no, the sponsor usually doesn't have any problem saying no to the people in sponsor’s own organization.

The sponsor is the key player in the scope change request process since they approve all requests. You will find that scope change management is easy if you have an "engaged sponsor" and if you will allow the sponsor to approve change requests, along with the additional budget and schedule needed to complete the change.