The Vanishing Visionary

The following entry is a part of the Pattern Library.  The Pattern Library illustrates some of the common patterns of events that have the potential to lead to project failure.

Name : Vanishing Visionary (aka dump and run)

In brief :
A Project Sponsor conceptualizes and initiates a project, but fails to follow through to ensure successful delivery. They provide the vision, assign the project to a Project Manager (dump) and then wash their hands of any further responsibility for the project (run).

Projects need Sponsors!  Sponsors bring vision to a project, they provide governance to a project and they have the ultimate responsibility for ensuring the project has the resources it needs to succeed.  Sponsors are the source of authority for the Project Manager and they are often the escalation path for problems to rise up through. Weak project sponsorship is a common problem in organizations and in some organizations there is little understanding of what it takes to be a successful sponsor and little or no oversight of what sponsors are doing.

In some organizations energized executive see themselves as visionaries who are charting the course to the future. They like the visionary aspects of Project Management, but feel that their role is solely to visualize a future while others will have the full responsibility to bring their vision to fruition.  Failing to provide the necessary management level support (sponsorship) to the project during its execution they undermine the chances of success by dumping the project on a Project Manager and then running.

Typical sequence of events :

  1. The Sponsor conceptualizes a project
  2. They generate excitement (or at minimum get excited about the idea themselves)
  3. They initiate a project and convince people to take a path of action
  4. They appoint a Project Manager (dump)
  5. They disappear (run)
  6. The Project Manager struggles to maintain momentum as the lack of interest at the senior management level undermines the authority of the Project Manager.

Negative effects :

  1. Team members and stakeholders show no commitment to the project
  2. Difficulty building momentum
  3. Frustration for the Project Manager
  4. Wasted resources as such projects often wither on the vine
  5. A project that fails to gain traction or deliver real benefits.

Related patterns and readings:

  1. And now – A Message TO our Sponsors
  2. Disconnect failures
  3. Alignment failures

Suggested Actions :

  1. Train the Sponsors in how to be an effective Sponsor
  2. Senior management to set up effective Project portfolio practices to ensure projects are properly evaluated prior to initiation and that the portfolio of projects has effective governance to ensure delivery.