A project sponsor’s impact on
practice-based learning within projects

Article Highlight:

Achieving a deeper understanding of project sponsor (PS) behaviour requires studies on the interaction of the PS with singular project phenomenon rather than pursue a multi-focused, broad brushed or shallow analysis. Through exploring the interface and the interactions between them, one can better understand the reciprocating impacts experienced and take action to achieve an accumulated benefit in a project.

Keywords

  • Project sponsor
  • Project team learning
  • Situated learning

Download now

What does the paper cover?

This paper seeks to advance a deeper understanding of a project sponsor’s impact on practice-based learning activity within a project, representing a first-case examination of the interface between a sponsor and practice-based learning phenomenon within projects.

The paper first explains the theoretical framework informing the study, before outlining the methodological approach engaged and detailing the case study examined. The findings argue for the project sponsor role to be acknowledged as dynamic and interactive, and a dramatic influence on project practice-based learning.

Methodology

The outcomes of this study come from a qualitative and longitudinal participative action research case study – a heavy industrial operation that processes coal into coke for use in the local blast furnace or for export. Over a period of 18 months, rich empirical data concerning the project participants and the sponsor and their behaviours in and around the project team was collected. This data was then triangulated to identify and confirm a set of emergent general themes.

Research findings

PS behaviour was a profound and multi-layered influence on the practice-based learning processes and activities of the project team and its members. This influence can be dissected and articulated as six impacts, which are:

  1. The number and quality of verbal exchanges and reflections
    The project team participants were still behaving as ‘adaptors’ rather than ‘innovators’ for their learning activities – despite the PS wanting them to more readily move into that innovator role.
  2. The active/passive/nil engagement of members
    The PS behaviours and actions spurned mixed outputs in relation to participants’ levels of engagement to learn in the team.
  3. A confusion about processes and roles
    Decisions and actions by the PS created uncertainty and confusion for the team about what to do, how to do it and by when.
  4. Restrained learning actions
    Project team members often demonstrated that they felt powerless in their leadership of the case study project.
  5. Provision of stimulus, structures and opportunities to learn
    The PS demonstrated a high propensity to provide the stimulant conditions for the team to learn.
  6. Quality and quantity of project boundary information flow
    The PS was instrumental in being a source and filter of project context information and process guidance, as well as encouraging the team members into networking beyond the immediate team.

Conclusions

There are three clear conclusions to the study:

  1. The PS role can be clearly dynamic and influential throughout a project life cycle and a sponsor’s project interactions are not necessarily just based on rational and ‘distanced to the project detail’ considerations.
  2. The PS role can dramatically impact situated learning activity in a project team, so the PS needs to be constantly reflective about and actively adaptable with their behavioural actions to positively foster situated learning.
  3. Through attempting to effectively and systematically foster situated learning development, the PS implicitly acts as an agent for organisational learning development.

Significance of the research

Project management research and practice have become increasingly dynamic and diversely focused, which reflects the continuing development and maturation of the project management field. Accordingly, one aspect of project management research that’s gained significant impetus involves research associated with social and contextual phenomena affecting projects, project team members and project organisations.

One aspect of project management that had been more generally perceived as ‘peripheral’ to the main game was the functioning or role of the PS. Consequently, the PS function needs to be more deeply understood, and through attaining such knowledge PSs may become more informatively and more appropriately engaged with projects.

Comments from author:

Further research on how the PS interacts and intersects with social phenomena within projects in multiple project contexts is still encouraged since, as demonstrated in this paper, the PS can intimately influence project learning activity and thereby, rightly or wrongly, project outcomes. In attaining such knowledge, both project sponsors and project participants may better understand and manage the dynamics of their interactions and promote productive project learning for the benefit of the project.

Other research summaries

Occupational stress and job demand, control and support factors among construction project consultants

Article highlight:

This article investigates the relationship between job demands, job control, workplace support factors and occupational stress among South African construction project consultants.

Click here

The project benefits of Building Information Modelling (BIM)

Article highlight:

This article provides an outlook on the potential use and advantages of BIM in the construction sector for project managers. It has been taken from the International Journal of Project Management.

Click here

Does Agile work? - A quantitative analysis of agile project success

Article highlight:

This article looks at the benefits, or not, of applying an agile (i.e. flexible) method of project management, as opposed to more traditional methods.

Click here

Differences in decision-making criteria towards the return on marketing investment: A project business perspective

Article highlight:

This article encourages the use of return on marketing-specific investment (ROMI), paired with client lifetime value (CLV) and programme data sets, as a tool to facilitate dialogue between finance and marketing departments.

Click here

Institutional development, divergence and change in the discipline of project management

Article highlight:

This article looks at the challenges of developing project management as an academic discipline.

Click here

Explicating the dynamics of project capabilities

Article highlight:

This article looks at the spread of knowledge about benefits management and its adoption by organisations; the global development of benefits management; and translation processes at the organisation level.

The article’s authors undertook literature reviews and drew on their own extensive practical experience.

They used translation theory to analyse the development of benefits management and to draw conclusions about its current use.

Click here

Benefits management: Lost or found in translation

Article highlight:

This article looks at the spread of knowledge about benefits management and its adoption by organisations; the global development of benefits management; and translation processes at the organisation level.

The article’s authors undertook literature reviews and drew on their own extensive practical experience.

They used translation theory to analyse the development of benefits management and to draw conclusions about its current use.

Click here

Understanding the professional project manager

Article Highlight:

This paper explores and examines the duality of ‘local’ knowledge (company; sector) and ‘cosmopolitan’ knowledge (specialist skills, often transferable) that project managers have and rely on.

Find out more

Corruption in public projects and mega projects

Article Highlight:

This article explores the impact of corruption in large, unique projects such as public projects and megaprojects, as well as the conditions and features that favour such corruption.

Find out more

Project portfolio management in practice and in context

Article Highlight:

This research advocates new approaches and perspectives on project portfolio management to deepen understanding of its application in the day-to-day business environment.

Click here

Managing change in the delivery of complex projects: Configuration management, asset information and ‘big data’

Article Highlight:

This article provides insight into how change is managed in three organisations delivering complex projects – Airbus, CERN and Crossrail – and how those methods are evolving in the era of ‘big data’.

It has been taken from the International Journal of Project Management.

Click here

Three domains of project organising

Article Highlight:

This article challenges the belief that project organising is temporary. It argues that most project organising is done by (relatively) permanent forms of organisation. It also argues that the belief of its temporary nature has limited the development of research in this field.

Click here

The unsettling of ‘settled science’: The past and future of the management of projects

Article Highlight:

Professor Peter Morris’ management of projects (MoP) perspective unsettles the norm of project management theory and practice because he criticises standard guidance as being too execution-focused.

Click here

Project studies: What it is, where it is going?

Article Highlight:

This paper proposes a new framework for project research, the project studies framework, containing three levels of analysis and three types of research.

Click here

Projectification in western economies: a comparative study of Germany, Norway and Iceland

Article Highlight:

This paper tests and confirms a common assumption that projectification is increasing in companies, economic sectors and whole economies in the western world. The research presented contributes to making the term ‘projectification’ a fact based on sound empirical evidence.

Click here

What practitioners consider to be the skills and behaviours of an effective people project manager

Article highlight:

Project managers need to show open and honest concern for and genuine interests in the people they work with, understanding their feelings and emotions. This understanding will help them to predict future behaviours of their team members so they can plan to avoid, for example, people conflicts.

Showing respect for others and what they stand for is a behaviour that carries a lot of weight in effective people management – in any culture. People value being respected for what they are and stand for. It makes them feel good about themselves but also about the person showing the respect.

Click here

Join APM

Sign up to the APM Newsletter.