Earlier this week I discussed the virtues of active and visible program/project sponsorship (supportive sponsors are recognised as a critical factor in ensuring successful delivery of such initiatives) in the post “Project sponsorship: get long term commitment“.
Though all programs/projects need engaged sponsors, it is fairly typical to unearth that in reality, that actual sponsor involvement is directly proportional to the level of urgency and uncertainty of the programme/project. Unquestionably the magnitude of sponsor involvement is amplified when the scale, complexity, urgency and risk level increases. Common sense really. A short-lived minor project is in no way going to run up against the same challenges as a multifaceted multi-million £ programme.
In such cases the risk to the program/project increases exponentially when the sponsor stops being actively engaged (for any of the reasons detailed before). The program/project manager must assess the situation on the program/project and ascertain the impact and severity on the program/project.
If there were contingency plans drawn up at the start of the program/project then they should be actioned. It certainly should have been list as a risk in the RAID.
Alternatively solution options or work around can be drawn up. Such resolutions may include escalation to even more senior level management or as extreme as suspending the program/project until a suitable sponsor can be appointed (I’ve seen this as a contingency plan drawn up at the start of a program and actioned upon when the scenario arose).
Indeed a program/project may succeed without sponsor support. But the level of risk rockets accordingly.
Unfortunately I’ve witnessed such an occurrence (more of an achievement) more than once. But rest assured it was not a pretty sight.
The programs/projects in question certainly did not flow as well as they could have (had they had an engaged sponsor), and resulted in an agonising and arduous endeavour. The many challenges faced by the respective leadership seemed more numerous than usual. Many of those challenges would have typically been resolved more rapidly with a sponsor engaged.
I certainly don’t envy any program/project manager tasked with a sponsor-less endeavour. The task will be even more stressful and thankless task than usual!