It’s hard to argue that effective project sponsorship is a critical success factor. Whether it is through providing funding for the project, exerting influence to avoid roadblocks or supporting and championing the behavior changes that must occur to achieve expected business results, the absence of good sponsorship can leave a Project Manager feeling like they’ve jumped out of a plane with no parachute.
There are multiple possible causes for poor sponsorship including an inconsistent understanding of the role & its responsibilities, a lack of good governance practices related to project selection, prioritization or initiation, as well as missing links between project results and sponsor performance objectives.
There are equally as many methods of improving the situation – some are within the control of a project team, while others require systemic or governance changes.
Some foundation changes that can improve results include:
- A consistent, organization-wide communicated definition of the expectations and responsibilities of a project sponsor. This definition should be signed off by the C-levels.
- Tying annual evaluations and bonuses for sponsors to project performance
- Incorporating evaluations and feedback from project teams as an input into the sponsor’s annual evaluations
- Required involvement and sign-off from project sponsors on project charters
A project team could try some of the following approaches:
- The PM should meet with the sponsor as early as possible to understand the sponsor’s expectations but also to convey the project team’s expectations for the sponsor. Issues or risks identified in that meeting should be responded to or escalated promptly. Beyond this meeting, the PM should regularly meet with the sponsor as a medium for the PM to provide constructive feedback about the sponsor’s “performance”.
- The sponsor should be asked to play a significant role in the kickoff meeting. Beyond stating the vision and expected outcomes for the project, the sponsor could re-state the expectations for their role at this meeting.
- The sponsor’s name should figure prominently in all key project documents including regular status reports.
- The PM should respect the sponsor’s expectations for information updates, and should neither keep the sponsor “in the dark” nor overwhelm them with minutiae.
- The project team as a whole should ensure that project information that the sponsor is exposed to is accurate, complete and business impact focused. Similarly, the decision-making approach used by the PM and team should be focused on business value impacts.
- The sponsor should be requested to attend periodic reviews of the project risk register as well as the reviews of significant project change requests. While the project team is likely to identify and assess project risks, the sponsor can provide valuable feedback on business risks.
While these may not be as effective as magic eyeglasses, the one-two punch of process and project team tactics could help to make an invisible project sponsor materialize.