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Effective sponsorship is key to success

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Every year numerous surveys tell us the same things that we have been reading for the last 40 years – more projects fail than succeed. Too few senior managers and executives in organisations do enough to change the culture of project sponsorship and delivery in their organisation, but all would say that they would welcome the opportunity to be educated.

APM, in its “Conditions for Project Success” research found that effective governance and capable sponsors were two of the key success factors. 

PMI found, in its Pulse of the Profession report, that:

  • “Less than two in five organisations place a high priority on creating a culture that recognises [senior management involvement] as a driver of better project performance. Organisations that place a high priority on creating this culture and engaged sponsorship report 71% of projects meeting original goals and business intent.”
  • “80 per cent of the projects with active sponsors reported a success rate of 75 per cent, which is much higher than the average”.

Presently, many directors and senior managers still fail to see that project success starts and ends with them:

  • as members of a Board effectively leading and sponsoring change and creating the right culture and capability
  • effectively undertaking the role of the sponsor to ensure a successful outcome, benefits realisation and value add to the organisation.

Many businesses have invested heavily in improving the professionalism of their project manager and delivery community. However, the same cannot be said for the development of sponsorship by the Board and the role of the project sponsor. Often directors or senior managers who have authority to initiate and sponsor business critical projects don’t understand their ongoing responsibilities, or have the required competence in relation to the role. 

Actively engaged sponsors is the top driver of project success. The sponsor role is pivotal - I would argue that 6 out of the regularly stated list of 8 causes of project failure fall at the feet of the sponsor, not the programme or project manager. Programme and project sponsor performance has a major bearing on creating or destroying business value – it’s that fundamental. Therefore, the need to educate sponsors is even more prevalent than ever before. Leaders step up in a crisis and we need to help them step up in our ever-changing world of projects.

Back in the 1990's the Association of Project Managers was renamed as the Association for Project Management (APM) – to deliberately recognise that there were other professionals involved in project management besides just project managers. APM now recognises that it needs to embrace sponsors and engage with them in the furtherment of project management art and science and project success.

We all need to do more to help organisations to professionalise the role of sponsor and help Boards to address some key recurring questions such as:

  • what are the core competences of an effective sponsor (what does good look like?);  
  • in which area should the role be allocated and at which level;
  • how do we develop appropriate models of sponsorship for different projects, depending on their size and complexity; can an interim / external take on the accountability;
  • how do we educate potential sponsors and encourage appropriate behaviours;
  • how do we ensure appropriate time availability of sponsors to focus on the role when there are other calls and priorities on his/her time;
  • how do we balance the role of the sponsor with that of the project manager so together they are effective;
  • how do we hold sponsors to account and measure the ‘success’ of the sponsor role?

Organisations need to be clear about these in advance of project delivery.

There is already guidance available on the sponsor role in APM’s publication “Sponsoring Change” which you can find in the APM bookshop. This is currently being updated and the update will be available in 2018. Other strategic initiatives are likely to include – development of a competency model for sponsors; guidance and workshops to promote good practice in sponsorship and leadership and the link to successful project outcomes; further research into the role; engagement with the sponsorship community and build APM's profile as a key influencer with this group; development of a knowledge sharing tool.

I welcome this move to put sponsorship, and engaging sponsors, at the core of APM’s new strategy and look forward to being involved in some of the initiatives to engage this community. 



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