Project Management: How important is your executive sponsor?

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According to Mark Langley, President and chief executive of the Project Management Institute, the executive sponsor is extremely important. Having the right project champion in your corner is the difference between success and failure.

He says that the sponsor should have a thorough knowledge of the project, and how it is related to, and impacts on, the organisations’ strategy.

About 62% of projects have an actively engaged sponsor, but those that do are completed more successfully, according to the Project Management Institute’s 2015 Pulse of the Profession ® Study. This will mean they are more likely to meet their goals, complete on time, and within budget.

As one survey respondent said “To be a really good executive sponsor requires two sets of skills that are not always packaged in one person. You have to have the ability to micromanage, but not the tendency to micromanage.”

The role of the sponsor

Mark Langley comments that the sponsors is a valuable, even crucial, resource and the culture should recognise the value they add. Their relationship with the project managers must be “founded on transparency and trust with a high degree of interdependence “. Organisations who recognise the importance of the executive sponsor are more likely to provide appropriate training for them and strategically assign sponsors to projects. They are also less likely to reduce their effectiveness by overburdening them with too many projects as well as their normal responsibilities

The sponsor should maintain an open dialogue with stakeholders, communicating effectively with them, influencing them to stay committed to the project, resolve any conflicts that may arise, smooth over any contentious issues. An exercise in diplomacy!

They should be provided with appropriate reports and feedback, incorporating a roadmap and progress against scheduled milestones. Effective two way communication helps to keep the project on track, avoid any disconnect, and allows the sponsor to stay engaged with the project without becoming involved in the detail.

For a sponsor to perform effectively it is helpful for them to receive specific training and mentoring from other executive sponsors. This has been shown to deliver better results than the sponsor having experience of project management or on the job learning. Very specific deployment of competencies such as rallying support of senior management , intervening appropriately, removal of roadblocks all require a deft touch , a skilful leadership . Sponsors also need to be able to effectively manage stakeholders, resources and budgets. They need to possess “subtle skills of persuasion and social dexterity “

What are the outcomes for an effective sponsor?

When the sponsor is active and engaged, there is a quantified increase in the percentage of projects that;-

  • Meet their original goals/business intent
  • Are completed on time
  • Finish within original budget
  • Avoid outright failure

This in turn will have a big impact on the company bottom line.

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