Executive Sponsors – addressing one of the weakest links in Projects
The project management profession has been hoping, for more than 40 years and in vain, that executives dedicate time to learn the importance and the key responsibilities of their role when sponsoring projects. If we want to increase our low project success rates exponentially to succeed in the Project Economy, we can not wait any longer.
ANR Newsletter #59
I hope you are doing well.
By now, we have enough evidence that executives sponsors are one of the weakest links in successful project implementation. After years of research and practice, I found a way to overcome this significant flaw in our profession which I would like to share and get your thoughts on.
“The project management profession has been hoping, for more than 40 years and in vain, that executives dedicate time to learn the importance and the key responsibilities of their role when sponsoring projects. If we want to increase our low project success rates exponentially to succeed in the Project Economy, we can not wait any longer.”
Recent LinkedIn survey: Executives are not prepared for sponsoring projects
Some years ago, I was managing a global transformation project for a large bank. The entire project team was afraid of the project sponsor, a guy called Matthias.
He occasionally participated in our regular project updates; he felt he didn’t need to know the details of the project; he was the guy with the vision. He was authoritarian, always looking for mistakes and blaming others. And, of course, Matthias was never wrong and didn’t know what was expected from him as a project sponsor. It was a painful project that didn’t meet its goals, nobody enjoyed it, and we were all glad when it was over.
You are probably familiar with similar projects, right?
“An inadequate and untrained sponsor in a project frequently leads to an unhappy team and almost inevitable project failure.”
In my experience, I’ve seen that having an effective sponsor contributes at least 30%, if not more, to a project’s success. Yet, according to recent research carried out jointly with Harvard Business Review, only 13% of executives had received specific training on becoming successful project sponsors.
HBR join survey: Only 13% of executives have received project sponsorship training
A fabulous example of Project Sponsorship
Examples of poor project sponsorship are everywhere and in most failed projects, but there are also great examples of incredible project sponsorship.
My favorite example is when Steve Jobs launched Project Purple to develop the first iPhone in 2004. As the project sponsor, he spent up to two days per week supporting, challenging, contributing, and steering the project.
It was Apple’s most strategic project, so it’s expected that the CEO was spending a significant amount of time on it, right?
But, when was the last time you saw your CEO in any of your project steering committees?
Dare to coach and train your Project Sponsor
My recommendation is that as soon as you start the project, you meet the executive sponsor to tell them the importance of the role, explain to them their key responsibilities and offer your assistance to coach them through the project.
In this initial meeting, I always discuss the importance of being available to discuss the progress of the project regularly.
To show their commitment to the project, I ask them to have 30 minutes meeting every two weeks (same weekday and time to create a little habit in their head), which I use to update and remind them of the duties of the role.
“I found it critical to have this initial coaching session and lockdown of regular meetings from the beginning of the project and before the executives move on with their busy schedules. It has proven to be a game-changer when dealing with project sponsors.”
Curious to hear about your experience with project sponsors. Any fantastic or terrible stories? And advice you want to share?
As always, if you have any comments or suggestions, please get in touch.
Keep well, hasta la vista!