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Research shows that complex projects fail between 50% and 90% of the time, depending on the study you look at. While there can be a multitude of reasons for specific project failures, one of the most common and overarching reasons is the lack of project sponsorship capability within organisations. Surprisingly, some organisations, even large ones, don’t have any formal brief for what project sponsorship looks like. As a result, executives and leaders are often left to navigate the murky waters of project sponsorship on their own, sometimes struggling to figure out what good sponsorship entails and where the boundaries of project manager and project sponsor should really be drawn.

Project sponsorship is not a role to be taken lightly. It requires a deep understanding of the project’s objectives, a commitment to the team’s success, and a willingness to make tough decisions when necessary. It also requires a strategic lens to ensure that what’s being delivered drives the business forward in the right way.

A key aspect of project sponsorship is the ability to create a vision for the project. This vision should align with the organisation’s strategic objectives and should be communicated clearly to all stakeholders. The sponsor should be able to articulate why the project is important, what it will achieve, and how it fits into the bigger picture. This vision can serve as a guiding light for the project team, helping to keep everyone focused and motivated.

In this post, we will highlight 5 of the most important focus areas for the engaged project sponsor:

Key Focus Areas for Effective Project Sponsorship

Active Project Ownership: The sponsor has ultimate accountability for the outcomes of the project. This means not only the cost and time outcomes, but also the usability of the end result and the contribution of the project to overarching strategic outcomes. The sponsor must be actively involved in the project, providing guidance and support to the project team throughout its lifecycle. The key here is to apply active ownership and not active management! That is the job of the project manager.

Be Present: When a project is formally kicked off, engaged sponsors create vision, establish a performance culture, and ensure that regular, two-way communication channels are in place. Good sponsors can remove roadblocks from project teams and advocate for them across the organisation and wider stakeholder base. Their presence is not merely symbolic; it is instrumental in driving the project forward and the resulting business change.

Leverage the Governance Framework: The governance framework provides the mechanics for sponsors to govern the project, ensuring that the work is going to plan and that any risks or issues are being mitigated or managed. Sponsors must play an active role in project governance, using the various meetings, reports and forums to steer the ship in the right direction. Sponsors need to make sure the right data is being provided from the delivery teams to inform good decision making.

Escalation & Dispute Resolution: When projects hit choppy waters (as almost all will at some point), the role of the sponsor is to be the point of escalation when project managers need support or a final decision. The sponsor can also be called upon to help resolve internal or external disputes with other parts of the business or suppliers/contractors. Their role is pivotal in navigating through conflicts and ensuring smooth project execution.

Own the Project Benefits: When the project is complete and the team roll off, the project sponsor is the continuity point, as benefits will need to be measured well into the active life of the project. The sponsor may place long term ownership elsewhere in the business, but they need to have a clear picture of the benefits at the point they were handed over.

Project sponsors will usually depend on a clearly defined governance framework to properly track delivery milestones and project time and cost status. Without a robust governance framework in place, sponsorship becomes a whole lot more challenging, and the project’s success can be jeopardised. Good sponsorship should not only depend on the capability of the individual sponsor but also on the structure of control that businesses place on their organisational investments The Project Management Office (PMO) is often the right hand of the sponsor when it comes to ensuring that reporting and data collection is accurate and effective. High performing PMO (or EPMOs) can support the data collection and ask some of the pressing questions about that data before it gets to the Sponsor, meaning that the Sponsor’s time is left for the bigger issues that can’t so easily be delegated or taken care of.

In our ‘Project Sponsor Training’ workshop, we educate both current and potential sponsors about their roles, emphasising the need for strategic and operational perspectives on projects. We provide tips on the key questions to ask project managers and some practical advice on when and how to engage more deeply as a sponsor. We discuss the sponsor’s role in risk management and project planning and consider the sponsor’s function throughout the project life cycle. We offer practical guidance for directing project managers and delivery teams and explore the intricacies of effective project sponsorship. By the end of the workshop, attendees will clearly understand their roles as sponsors and will be well equipped with the tools and knowledge to lead their projects to success time and time again.

Contact us today for more information on our Sponsor Training workshop.