Is sponsorship for life or just for Christmas?

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So, is sponsorship for life or just for Christmas? In short, at Royal Mail we believe it is for life (of the initiative). Why? Sponsors are accountable, they provide advocacy and champion the change and they integrate it into the overall business strategic direction. Sponsors have a vested interest in the outcomes of the projects which could save their operation money through efficiency or gain them more revenue or market share through growth initiatives. Unless the sponsor is in position for the life of the initiative it is difficult to engender real accountability for delivery of benefits. And sponsors need the full support of the board and organisation to ensure successful realisation of benefits.

We know that engaged and effective sponsorship is a Key Success Factor (KSF) in change success… but managing and getting sponsors engaged, effective and ensuring recognition of their accountabilities (through into BAU operations) needs to be carefully considered. The challenge we face is how much accountability a sponsor has (or can be expected to have) for each business case, as part of the overall day job. 

At Royal Mail we have had the opportunity to examine the change load of business cases to sponsors and have begun to nurture the sponsors of tomorrow. Today is about progressing the conversation around how we can make good even better. Royal Mail capability was recognised with the APM project of the year 2016 and now we are a finalist in the 2018 APM awards.

Existing operational sponsors will retain the role of Executive Sponsor (ES) for ALL projects in their area/function of accountability –  the overall portfolio sponsor.  However, each ES could have many projects in their area or portfolio. We recognise the need to increase the headroom for the ES's to concentrate on the more complex programmes or projects whilst guiding the overall portfolio but giving tangible development opportunity to others. The ES reviews who in their structure has, or could be equipped with, the skills to undertake day-to-day sponsorship (as delegated responsibility, effectively operating as a sponsor ‘agent’) on projects. We break up the delegated sponsorship into Bronze, Silver and Gold. These are based on various criteria but, in short, Gold is most complex, requires more investment and impacts more people. Whereas, Bronze has fewer gates to progress through the lifecycle, is less complex, needs to be deployed far quicker and we expect these projects to be less of a risk in the portfolio.

Each example is different, so we need to explore how we appoint each delegated sponsor. For example, the ES might sponsor all GOLD projects, but if there are currently no gold projects in their portfolio, then they might directly be the sponsor on SILVER projects. This should be examined on a case-by-case basis and also flow through to Bronze and BAU.

The ‘ask’ we gave in Royal Mail was to consider who could pick up day-to-day sponsor ‘agent’ responsibilities across projects, with delegated powers from the ES. This could highlight some tangible and broader development opportunities for people in the teams.

So does this mean that our sponsors and less experienced delegated sponsors can do the job well from day one?  Would you expect to provide someone with the Highway Code and expect them to get in the car and be able to drive and engage with other road users effectively? By helping people drive rather than just giving them a book they will become a much better driver.

In Royal Mail, having this structured approach of the ES carrying out the portfolio sponsor role and also hands on sponsor on the most strategic projects, alongside other delegated sponsors (as effective sponsor ‘agents’) allows the ES headroom and also enables others to gain important experience under guidance.

Peter Horsted and the team in Royal Mail have been providing tailored support (sitting in the car and helping the driver drive better) for existing and new sponsors.

Using the same guidance and advice material to provide individual tailored support to sponsors and ESs for the difference levels of governance but also so they can help and guide in terms of sponsorship accountabilities. 


Original presentation by Peter Horsted, presented on the evening by Ashley Cox of the Governance SiG

Ashley Cox

Posted by Ashley Cox on 9th Aug 2018

About the Author

Ashley has worked in Royal Mail since 2005 in their operations department and has developed into the project environment supporting the operations locally to Bristol.  From 2012, this became more centralised and Ashley has managed many projects related to operational improvement processes through to commercial initiatives that need operational changes to support.

Ashley has just recently changed to a project which is managing a very tech-based initiative into our operations. Ashley has also volunteered with the APM Governance SIG and was recently elected as a committee member in 2018.

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