Sponsorship of a project, programme or portfolio is an important senior management role. The sponsor is accountable for ensuring that the work is governed effectively and delivers the objectives that meet identified needs.
Sponsorship is normally carried out by an individual who may also be known as an executive, senior responsible owner (SRO) or client.
A sponsor may be supported by other senior managers. They will be referred to as a P3 board or steering group. Even if there is a board, the sponsor is still accountable and needs to continue to play an active sponsorship role.
The sponsor owns the business case. There must be a close relationship between the sponsor and the P3 manager to ensure that the business case remains viable. Will it deliver the defined outputs and benefits? If the value of predicted benefits no longer exceeds the cost or risk of achieving them, a sponsor must work with the P3 manager to redefine or prematurely close the project, programme or portfolio.
The P3 manager is accountable to the sponsor. They need a continuous dialogue to ensure a common understanding of the:
- work to be done;
- benefits sought;
- cost and risk of delivering the benefits.
It is vital that the sponsor and manager should have a good working relationship and operate as a team. The sponsor will support the P3 manager, for example, in dealing with issues and communicating with more senior stakeholders.
A communication management plan will clearly state communication responsibilities and a robust control system will identify issues that need to be escalated from the manager to the sponsor.
A sponsor needs to be:
- a business leader and decision-maker with the credibility to work across corporate and functional boundaries;
- an enthusiastic advocate of the work and the change it brings about;
- prepared to commit time and support to the role;
- sufficiently experienced in P3 to judge if the work is being managed effectively and to challenge P3 managers where appropriate.
The role of the project sponsor starts before the appointment of the project manager. It continues beyond project closure and the departure of the project manager.
As owner of the business case, the project sponsor is responsible for overseeing the delivery of the benefits. So the sponsorship role covers the whole project life cycle.
The project sponsorship role will often be taken by the programme manager where the project is part of a programme.
The sponsor and the project manager may be from different organisations. In a contractual situation the sponsor will typically be from a client organisation and the project manager from a contracting organisation.
The latter adds a layer of complexity because the client’s sponsor and the contractor’s manager will have separate commercial objectives. In this situation it is advisable to have a senior contractor representative on a project board working with the sponsor.
The scale of programmes will often require a sponsor to be supported by a group of senior managers who perform some sponsorship duties. However, ultimate accountability will lie with the programme sponsor.
Programmes include the management of change in business-as-usual activities. The programme sponsor must have the authority and credibility to carry through change that will often be difficult. There is inevitably opposition to change and the sponsor will need excellent communication and influencing skills to ensure realisation of the benefits in the business case.
The programme manager should also be a competent project sponsor and will often perform that role for some, or all, of the programme’s component projects.
Sponsorship of a portfolio of projects and programmes will be undertaken by a senior executive with the necessary status, credibility and authority. This may well be a main board member, or even the CEO of the organisation. The scale of a portfolio will require an extensive governance organisation. This may involve, for example, committees with the responsibility for investment decisions or management of change.
The sponsor must ensure that the portfolio remains aligned with the strategic direction of the organisation, and secure the necessary funding and resources.