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Would You Hire Lord Sugar As A Project Sponsor?

Paul Naybour Paul Naybour

Published: 12th November 2010

Project SponsorEvery week we see the candidates in the Apprentice try to deliver a project set by Lord Sugar. Usually planning is poor, execution is far from perfect, team work is lacking, the benefits are dubious and someone gets fired. However is it fair to blame the project manager, surely the sponsor has ultimate responsibility for the success or failure of the project? So is LordSugar a good role model for a project sponsor? Would he be hired or fired as a project sponsor?
The Association for Project Management Body of Knowledge a project sponsor as
Project Sponsor is an active senior management role, responsible for identifying the business need, problem or opportunity. The sponsor ensures the project remains a viable proposition and that the benefits are realised, resolving any issues outside the control of the project manager.

Interesting, Lord Sugar (or at least the production team) fulfils the first part of this role “defined the business need” but his performance in “ensuring the project remains viable and that benefits are realised” is woefully inadequate. He is a “fire and forget” sponsor of the worst kind. Sets the project off then provides no support to the project.
According the Association for Project Management the sponsor needs to be

  1. A business leader and decision taker who is able to work across functional boundaries within an organisation.
  2. An advocate for the project and the change it brings about.
  3. Prepared to commit sufficient time and support to undertake the role.
  4. Sufficiently experienced in project management to be able to judge whether the project is being managed effectively.

Lord Sugar’s support to the project is too passive to meet these criteria but in fact be typical of many real project sponsors.
The Bok also say “without clear goals, direction and business leadership provided by the sponsor even the best project manager and project team can struggle to succeed. Similarly, without clear, timely decisions and support the project will falter.” So can we blame the project manager for the poor performance on the apprentice project managers? As far as your role of project sponsor I am afraid Sir Alan you’re fired.
However if Lord Sugar did follow the APM guidance for a good sponsor then most of the projects would be successful and the programme would be very boring. Maybe there are lessons for the sponsors of business projects in Lord Sugar’s approach.

  1. Mike R says:

    Hi, I think we need to understand exactly which ‘project’ AMS is sponsoring… Surely his view of the project is the successful recuitment of a single person at the end of a 15 week series… all of the tasks along the way assist him in that decision. Question… Does AMS need to spend 15 weeks in that selection process … answer NO .. he could just undertake interviews with the candidates and select one. So the Project benefit really is .. The increased visibility in the marketplace of the AMS brand and the maintaining of viewing numbers to the satisfaction levels of the BBC… hence the sometime questionable firing decisions … it’s all to keep the viewing statistics up !!!…. Therefore a totally successful project I would say.

    • pnaybour says:

      Good point, the true objective is to increase viewing figures. This discussion started with a reflection on the APM forum with a discussion of the use of the term project manager for the weekly tasks. Again the power of the project is the complex objectives of the projects. The team want to win, but also know who to blame if they fail. It’s still interesting to compare the role played by AMS against the role of the typical sponsor. Are they that different in practice.

  2. Chris Walters says:

    Sorry to hijack the topic, but I think any resemblance to “real” project management is analogous to the “reality” of life that we see in any of the other recent “reality” programmes. It’s contrived, attention-seeking, ego-boosting claptrap and should be viewed as purely entertainment, if this is the sort of thing that you find entertaining.
    I’m sure AMS is a good (although hard to manage) sponsor for “real” (as opposed to “reality”) projects, as history has shown time and time again that he’s a successful businessman – surely that is what sponsorship demands? He must be selecting and sponsoring projects well where it really matters to him and his business. And his projects clearly have a record of delivery.

  3. Regarding MikeR’s contribution interviewing is not a reliable recruitment technique.
    Testing under work conditions, such as the Apprentice format is pretending to achieve, is much better so AMS may have it right in this regard.
    Another thought, Project Managers have to manage upwards as well as sideways and downwards. Why don’t the Project Managers ask AMS for his help? They may be surprised by the result.

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