Program and project sponsorship is recognised as a critical factor in ensuring successful delivery of such initiatives. But this is only if it is active and visible sponsorship. Anything less, impacts the ability of the teams tasked to deliver and the viability of the outcome.
Unfortunately, all too frequently programs and projects progress with limited, ineffective or even no sponsorship. In such situations, many teams flounder around endeavouring to do their best but failing to deliver to their full potential or to expected outcomes (unless those outcomes have been downgraded substantially).
Just to reiterate, Active and Visible sponsorship is critical. The sponsor is not a “figurehead” and, although they may not perform any direct delivery work for the program/project, their services are vital.
In order to achieve this, sponsors need to be fully aware of the importance they play in making program and project driven changes successful. Many are aware and become fully engaged in the process. Well certainly at the start of the initiative. Unfortunately for many this all too often doesn’t last long.
Why? Sponsors have a tendency to change through the life-cycle of the project. There are three main reasons why.
Firstly, the individual who acts as sponsor is replaced during the project. For whatever the reason behind this, it appears to happen all too frequently. We’ve all witnessed occasions where strong supportive program sponsors have been replaced by lessor individuals, someone whose been lobbed the responsibility for the role. Such a scenario will likely result in a void or severe weakness in the program/project sponsorship with resulting impact on all concerned. There are other occasions where repeated changes in the sponsor weaken the power and influence the sponsor role should hold.
Secondly, the sponsor’s day to day role evolves during their tenure as sponsor. In this situation the sponsor finds that their daily operational duties shift, typically away from the sponsor role. This might be due to organisational change, promotion or just varying responsibilities, but the end result is less focus on the sponsor role. For instance, I worked at a finance sector organisation and the sponsor of one of the critical projects I was managing took on an expanded role, the same role as he had but the geography he was responsible for expanded. His role meant he was now responsible for several European countries and it was necessary for him to work in all of the countries. He was still the ideal person for the sponsor role, but overnight his availability was reduced by a factor of eight. So when it was required for him to respond to escalations there were delays, sometimes by days. Even trying to get his attendance at project boards was a struggle. In the end we arranged for him to delegate much of his responsibilities to a deputy sponsor!
Thirdly, the sponsors interest fades. You must have seen this one, the sponsor starts off over eager, committing fully to the role and needing to be involved in every aspect of the program/project. They appear to have the eagerness of a child with a new Christmas present (excited about unwrapping the program/project and discovering something new to play with); that is until the initial vigour is exhausted or until a point something new distracts them then their focus jumps to this new shiny area.
In an ideal world the person who commits to be sponsor at the start of the program/project needs to stay in that critical role through ought the program/project life-cycle. In the real world this happens less often than is ideal.
Project sponsorship is a critically important ingredient in program/project success and the importance of the sponsor is directly proportional to the level of urgency and uncertainty of the project.
Obviously a program/project may succeed without sponsor support. But if there is no one around to “clear the path” and “fly the flag” at senior management levels, it will certainly become an agonising, stressful and thankless task for the program or project manager.