'How many sponsors does your project have?'
Most project managers will answer the question by saying that they only have one project sponsor. This is a great answer - and it is far easier to manage a project with only one sponsor.
But for some projects, we find ourselves managing two (or, infrequently, more) executives who all want the role of sponsor. For example, a project where you are launching new software for the customer service division may have the IT Director as a sponsor (as her team provides the deliverables and manages the work) and the Customer Service Director (as his team is the one which will be using the output when the project is finished).
So who is in charge?
Who organizes resources?
One of the troubles with having two sponsors is that there will probably be issues with resource allocation. If your project resources are coming from one area, the owner of that area needs to sign off to say that you can have the relevant team members. But offering up people to work on the project doesn't necessarily give that area a say over how the budget is spent or what those team members end up working on.
There are also conflicts over who gets to allocate whom to the project. In our example, the Customer Service Director cannot allocate IT resources to fix a problem, because allocating IT resources would be the domain of the IT Director. Or do they come to an agreement that says one can pull resources from the other's team without prior approval? And then what happens when there is a big operational IT problem (say, for example, that the banking system crashes and no one can make any payments via the company website)? Surely this must take priority over a project problem?
With two executives at the helm, the project team can often get caught in the middle. That's not a good place to be! To get round the issue of resource allocation with multiple teams and executives involved, it is a good idea to try to second people to the team. When they work directly for you (even if it is only temporarily) you are in charge of allocating them work and this is an easier solution than having to go to the sponsors and watch them battle out the organizational priorities.
Who can sign off the deliverables?
Someone needs to have the final say. If you have two sponsors, work out well in advance who gets to make the decisions about what. In our example, the Customer Service Director would ultimately get to make decisions about scope, as his team will use the product. But the IT Director could make decisions about system security, quality, response times and other non-functional requirements. You can document who will approve which requirements in the requirements log.
The alternative to two sponsors vying to make the decision is that no one wants to make the decision at all. Both sponsors could defer to the other, leaving you in a position where no one is providing the necessary authority to move the project forward. This can paralyze the work and demotivate the team, so it's important to avoid if you can.
Another demotivating situation is when one sponsor makes a decision and then the other reverses it. If that ever happens to you, talk to them both and get them to agree a way forward. In future, try to get agreement before taking any action, just in case one tries to change the decision later.
And it should go without saying but I'll say it anyway - document all the decisions made! Note down who made the decision, what the outcome was and the rationale behind choosing that way forward.
Who can make changes?
Follow your change process rigidly as this is a sure way to avoid scope changes and priority changes on the project. With two sponsors you'll end up with two opinions about pretty much everything, so having a clear process to follow when it comes to changes means that at least you can direct them down a structured path. This will mean that changes are thought through and properly evaluated, and you aren't making changes based on a conversation in the corridor with one of your sponsors.
If one person suggests a change (whether they are a project sponsor or not) both sponsors should agree the way forward - whether the change is accepted or rejected and if it is accepted, with what level of priority it should be implemented.