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Sponsorship: How to Get it Right

Role of a Project Sponsor

Project sponsors act as advocates for project and are usually high-ranking members of management who possess significant influence and authority. They are accountable for the realisation of outcomes and act as the governance link between the management of the project at the organisation’s senior executives.

They offer continuous, readily available support to the project manager, creating the conditions for success. A strong, supportive bond between the project sponsor and project manager can substantially enhance the performance of the project manager, the project team, and the overall project outcome. (Whitten, 2002)

Success Attributes of a Project Sponsor

Provides leadership: The sponsor should complement and assist the project manager in achieving the desired project and business results by using their wider influence within the organisation and providing motivation and challenge as necessary. They ensure management of the project is consistent with organisational context.

Clarifies priorities: The sponsor provides the project manager with the vision, business case, outcomes, requirements, and anticipated benefits. The sponsor helps interpret this information to focus on delivery and facilitate trade-offs when constraints influence delivery. They need to understand the relative priorities of the project outputs and outcomes, and the requirements associated with these.

Owns requirements: A sponsor defines success, owns project requirements, and ensures outputs meet the business case and are acceptable to end users. They negotiate compromises between conflicting requirements and clarify any ambiguities for the delivery team. The sponsor also ensures the project manager understands the requirements, output quality tolerances, timing, and delivery risks. This role is vital for successful project execution.

Escalates issues and approves changes: A sponsor is the escalation point for issues beyond the project team’s control. They ensure prompt escalation to the right governance level and champion issue resolution. The sponsor also plays a key role in negotiating changes that could impact project requirements or outputs. They stay informed about board decisions that could affect the project’s success and take responsibility for actions requiring senior management commitment. They manage significant scope changes, ensuring they don’t undermine the business case.

Makes timely decisions: A sponsor is key in making timely decisions. They balance the need for escalation to avoid risk and maintain authority. Sponsors with delegated authority consider various aspects like business case, benefits, requirements, deliverability, and cost to make prompt decisions. They lead escalation when other bodies are involved, ensuring smooth project execution.

Provides resources: The sponsor interprets resource requests from the project manager and ensures reasonable requests are met while maintaining an appropriate return on investment. This includes approval of new funding and extra purchasing requests. The sponsor also ensures non-financial resources like staff and other assets are available as required. They work with other stakeholders to support project delivery and help find solutions when resource constraints endanger project success.

Managing relationships: The sponsor takes care of stakeholder relationships, both internal and external. They need to gain understanding of the stakeholder’s interests and expectations to communicate the project’s objectives, benefits, and requirements. Then the sponsor informs the project manager on the insights gained from these stakeholders.

Provides authorisation: The sponsor reviews the project status at stage gates or checkpoints and provides authorisation or recommendations. Conditional approval is used to maintain project momentum while ensuring all necessary conditions are met before progressing through a gate

Receives reporting: The sponsor should interpret these reports, provide constructive feedback, and identify key challenges, threats, and opportunities. If they lack the necessary skills or experience, they should seek external support to provide insightful challenge and effective reporting, which assists the sponsor in representing the project’s performance to senior stakeholders.

Champions the project: The sponsor ensures organizational and external support, collaborates with various stakeholders, and ensures that the project team is set up for success. They also work closely with the project manager to motivate and reward the team, ensure there is a plan post-project completion, and share lessons learned throughout and at the end of the project with the rest of the organization.

Sponsoring Change – A Guide to the Governance Aspects of Project Sponsorships, Second Edition

© Association for Project Management 2018


Key Challenges in Sponsorship

Managing relationships with project sponsors is crucial for successful project delivery. However, project managers often face significant challenges. Expectations management can be problematic, as sponsors may have high or unclear expectations, leading to misunderstandings about project goals and deliverables. Scope changes present another challenge, with sponsors sometimes requesting adjustments due to evolving business needs, affecting timelines, budgets, and project resources. Conflict of priorities may also occur when a sponsor's objectives clash with the project's goals or other stakeholders' interests, potentially derailing progress and leading to dissatisfaction.

These challenges are often not intentional but indicate that project sponsors may not be operating at their full potential. Without proper training, sponsors can struggle with managing expectations, responding to scope changes, and aligning priorities due to insufficient capabilities. This gap in skills and understanding highlights the need for targeted sponsor training to ensure that projects stay on track.

PMLogic B-corp offers sponsor training designed to address these challenges. Learn to understand the link between project success and sponsorship, becoming a well-equipped sponsor through hands-on training and resources that maximize your performance. You'll also gain the tools for effective governance, reducing the risks of delays, budget overruns, and quality issues while staying true to your business goals. Additionally, assess your personal sponsorship capabilities to develop confidence and apply effective sponsorship skills.

Become a knowledgeable sponsor who can support project managers and achieve project success. Sign up with PMLogic today to unlock your full potential!

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