Trump’s election campaign lessons for project sponsors

jim-johnsonBy Tony Collins

Jim Johnson, founder and chairman of The Standish Group, which publishes the lessons from project successes and failures, has identified messages for project sponsors – or senior responsible owners – from Trump’s election campaign.

Project sponsors are those ultimately responsible for the success of a project. A good project sponsor would be expected to consider cancellation of the project if the business case no longer justified its continuance.

In his book The Good Sponsor – published in September 2016 – Johnson listed 10 attributes for good project sponsors. Three of the most important, says Johnson, are inspiration, perspiration and imagination.

Johnson says on his blog,

“Donald Trump’s adult and business life began as a project sponsor. Trump was a project sponsor whether he was building low-cost homes, condos in the Midwest, gaming casinos, or giant high-rise towers in midtown Manhattan.

“Trump often claims his projects come in on time, on budget and on target.  This fact may or may not be true, but one thing is true: most of his projects did get completed and became very valuable. However, the lesson for project sponsors comes from the recent presidential election.

“Trump recognized a core group of stakeholders (voters) and inspired them to his cause.

“He used colorful language and much hyperbole. He gave them examples of how he could make their life better with the tagline “Make America Great Again.” He belittled his foes with rhetoric that was short on substance, but long on shrewdness.

“He gained great press coverage on his outlandish claims. All this inspired his core group and this group inspired others to join the cause. Each primary victory added to his following.

“In the end his presidential project was a success.”

Trump is a workaholic, says Johnson “He would get up early and be out on the campaign trail. He would stay up in the wee hours of the morning sending out tweets to his stakeholders.

“In between he would be holding meetings, or opening up a golf course or a new hotel. He would never stop. He really dedicated himself to the project. This was in contrast to Hillary Clinton; it seemed at times she was coasting through the process. It takes hard work to make a project successful…

“However, in my mind Trump’s strongest skill was his imagination. He would constantly imagine things that were just not true in reality and convince his stakeholders to imagine along with him.

“In contrast, imagination was Hillary’s greatest weakness. Her messages were both stale and flat. Let’s face it, a project sponsor without imagination is like a bicycle without wheels. It is just not going to take you where you aim it.

“A sponsor with imagination will take you anywhere and everywhere.”

Johnson adds that he is not a fan or supporter of Donald Trump. “I was very disappointed in the outcome of the election. I am a fan of good sponsorship and Donald Trump is not just a good sponsor but a great one.”


It’s difficult for me to see anything positive in Trump’s election campaign. Even so I admire Jim Johnson’s desire to apply some of the lessons from that campaign to running projects.

Here are links to Jim Johnson’s highly-readable Dead Presidents’ Guide to Project Management and The Good Sponsor.


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