The Art of Project Sponsorship

Insights | 10 June 2016

Is successful sponsorship an art or science or just luck?


A bit of all three thrown in for good mix?

A Sponsor needs to be everything from project champion, to energized leader, risk manager, road-block remover, business owner and securer of finances – no mean feat.

“A sponsor… is accountable for enabling success”.

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), PMI®

The Effective Sponsor

An effective sponsor needs to communicate, liaise, problem solve, mentor, review, challenge, critique, negotiate, promote, support and authorize (often under pressures of time and cost).

An effective sponsor knows when to be involved but not micro-manage, how to interact with the project manager and other stakeholders, and make key decisions when the going gets tough. And all this whilst typically juggling a normal ‘day job’.

Inheriting the role of Sponsor

One approach to understanding effective sponsorship is to ask yourself “what would you expect if you inherited a project from another Sponsor?”

Let’s set the scene; imagine the project is partway through, but there is still considerable time, budget and effort to complete the project.  It is hoped to achieve its objectives and deliver sizable benefits. A project not to be ignored or assumed that will ‘just happen’ without senior management support and guidance. What would you want to know and have as part of a handover from the existing sponsor?  It really comes down to asking Why, What, Who, When and How?

The Why, What, Who, Where, When and How for Effective Sponsorship

  1. The Why.  Is there a business case?  Has it been reviewed since original signoff?  Is the project still viable?  Are the expected benefits expressed in measurable terms?  What really is the value of the expected benefits? How will the benefits be measured? How will everyone know that they have been achieved?  Does the business case stack up against any key (negative) business risks?
  2. The What. What project management methodology/framework and delivery methods are being used?  Are agile approaches being applied? Are they appropriate?  Is a blend of methods being applied?  Is the project standalone or part of a programme? What portfolio does the project come in under?
  3. The Who. Who else is involved in decision making, for example who is on the steering committee or board for the project? Is there appropriate senior level representation from both the supply (‘do-ers’) and user perspective (or are you representing the business and users)? Who are the other key stakeholders?  And of course who is the project manager?  Have you worked with this project manager before?  What is their experience?  Do you have faith in the project manager leading and managing the project on a day-to-day basis on your behalf?
  4. The When.  When has the project agreed to deliver by?  Is there a fixed deadline?  If so, is this achievable?  Are key milestones and dependencies clearly articulated?  Have key delivery dates for specific deliverables/products been agreed? Is there any time tolerance in terms of delivery? Are there any other key timing constraints?
  5. The Where. Where is the project currently at? Is there visibility on what has been achieved to date?  Where are the last 2-3 status reports?  Do they clearly show where the project is and where it needs to be at this point?  Where should the project be heading next?
  6. The How.  Are there appropriate governance mechanisms in place? How much governance is really required for the project?  How has the project been run to date?  How is gating being applied to the project? How are risks, quality, communication and any other required standards, practices or policies being addressed?  Are there agreed approaches for these?  Are they working?

As a Sponsor you need to assure yourself that good practice is being followed throughout a project and that the business case remains viable.  Ask the vital questions around the ‘why, what, who, where, when and how’ of the project – consider an independent health check to gain a clear insight to the project and the quality of the decision information provided by the project.

Being accountable means accepting and demonstrating ‘ownership’ of the project.”

Directing Successful Projects with PRINCE2®, AXELOS

PMI and PMBOK are registered marks of the Project Management Institute, Inc.

PRINCE2 is a registered trade mark of AXELOS Limited.

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