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 for 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.
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.
About QA Group
QA helps individuals and organisations achieve their potential through world-class Learning Strategy and Solutions. This includes: training and certification, innovative Talent Solutions that solve both business critical skills and capability gaps, Business Transformation solutions, enabling change and transformation through engagement and education of workforces, and Managed Learning Services. In addition, QA provides consultancy, apprenticeships and post graduate degrees on a range of technical, business and leadership subjects. With over 22 UK training centres – including Apprenticeships, Consulting and Cyber Academies – and a range of online learning options, QA offers an unparalleled set of learning solutions to both private and public sector organisations.
Dr Ian Clarkson
Ian has worked with some of the world's largest organisations in all sectors and has been with QA for 16 years.
He was an author of the APM BoK 6 and a referenced reviewer to the most recent update to the PRINCE2 and MSP publications. Ian was on the technical advisory board for the development of the APM Higher Apprenticeship in Project Management, and also for the update to the APM suite of certifications for BoK 6. Ian is a regular blogger, podcaster, and contributor to the APM as well as the Project Manager Today magazine.
When he’s not helping organisations transform, Ian reads the latest articles and research on the topic. Maybe he should just get out more instead!
More articles by Dr Ian
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Is project management in your DNA?
I'm OK – You're OK: How to have adult-adult conversations in the workplace
Gains and losses: What are your prospects for a successful project?
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Don’t ignore the gorilla in the room