I have worked with many organisations over the years providing half-day executive (C-Level) briefings of what a Project Sponsor is and what is expected of them on a Project, and this volume of interactions alone gives me the view that the importance of Project Sponsorship is not widely understood or acknowledged by organisations. But don’t just take my word for it, there is plenty of research available that states the importance of the role of a Sponsor on project success. Here are just two:

  • The Project Management Institute (PMI) “Pulse of the Profession 2018” report states: “Analysis shows that the dominant driver of projects meeting their original goals is an actively engaged sponsor. One in four organisations (26%) reports that inadequate sponsor support is the primary cause of failed projects”. The report goes on to say that in 41% of ‘underperforming’ organisations (those organisations with less than 60% of projects completing on time, budget, meeting business intent and having low benefits realisation maturity), inadequate sponsor support is a primary cause of failed projects. For ‘champion’ organisations (those organisations with more than 80% of projects completing on time, budget, meeting business intent and having high benefits realisation maturity), the figure is 2.5 times less: 17% say inadequate sponsor support is a primary cause of failed projects.
  • The Association for Project Management (APM) “Conditions for Project Success” report identified 12 project success factors – in my view the following factors all require effective Sponsorship: Effective governance, Goals and objectives, Commitment to project success, Capable sponsors, Secure funding, Supportive organisations, and Competent project teams.

If anyone reading this is wondering what a Project Sponsor is, I will pose to you the question I pose to all organisations to answer what a Sponsor is:

“A Project Sponsor is accountable for project success. What is the Sponsor accountable for?”

I sum up in one sentence: “A Project Sponsor is accountable for the Benefits Realisation”. So, if your business case claims that by doing this project you will make £x extra profit/saving (benefit – keeping it financial for illustration), then the Sponsor is accountable for whether or not £x extra profit/saving is made (benefits realisation). The other questions I pose are “when will this £x extra profit/saving be realised? Is it realistic for the Sponsor to be accountable over this time period?” As accountability need to remain post-project!

So, the evidence points to a need to build capability and capacity in Project Sponsorship. But what does the statement “A Project Sponsor is accountable for the Benefits Realisation” actually consist of? And “what is the best way to build Sponsorship competence”?

Taking the first of these questions, consider the following (not-exhaustive) list of what is expected of a Project Sponsor:

Effective leadership (of the project)

  • Good governance (i.e. ensuring the correct policies/procedures/roles/reporting is in place and adhered to)
  • Effective decision making
  • Being available (as advice/direction is needed that won’t coincide with a pre-scheduled project review)
  • Displaying the correct behaviours (e.g. supportive, influencer, communicator, delegator etc)
  • Having the authority able to make decisions, including to change/stop the project (or know their limits and escalation routes)
  • Strategic thinker
  • Commercial acumen
  • Organisational-specific context

If you are wondering why specific disciplines like benefits management, risk management, quality management etc are not listed, whilst these are all essential parts of a project, these would all be under ‘governance’ of which the Sponsor needs to ensure its effectiveness.

Now for the second question: “What is the best way to build this Sponsorship competence?” Let me state that the thought of sending Sponsors on a training course has always horrified me! Given the definition of a Sponsor, think about who your own Sponsors are, or who would be candidates for the role. They are likely to be senior individuals in your organisation – how would they react if you suggested they sit a 2 day training course and pass an exam in order to be able to Sponsor a project? If an individual needs a training course and to pass an exam to be a Sponsor, then they shouldn’t be a Sponsor!

This does not mean help isn’t needed – it just needs to be done in the right way. The executive briefings I mentioned above are a good way to give an overview of the role of a Sponsor (especially as time can be a limiting factor). However to embed the role of a Sponsor and build long-term capability and capacity a more structured development programme is a good option.

To find out how QA can help build your Project Sponsor capability and capacity, contact Ian Clarkson – Head of Organisational Consultancy: ian.clarkson@qa.com

Related blogs and courses:

Top ten tips in becoming a project manager

Be the architect of your project management career

Project management training courses including PRINCE2, APMP and Agile training courses.

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