In Step with Projects

In Pace with Progress

Effective Sponsorship Series (2)


Author: Michel Thiry     Source: PMR

PMR Magazine collected top experts' viewpoints on the topic sponsorship. The following is Michel Thiry's contribution:

Generating value in a VUCA world
In today’s VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) economy, it becomes increasingly difficult to consistently generate value. As the evolution of markets and technology accelerates exponentially, the need to stay relevant requires organisations to become ever more agile and to increase reliance on “transient competitive advantages” (Rita Gunther McGrath, The End of Competitive Advantage, 2013). Organisations’ activities can be divided into two broad categories: “Running the Organisation” and “Transforming the Organisation”; sponsorship is typically focused on the latter, which includes programs and projects and aimed at generating value for the stakeholders.

Executive Sponsors do not get involved enough
In 2005, a KPMG Global IT Management Survey stated that: “Project governance practices today tend to focus on making commitments, not keeping them. That is, executives are often involved in selecting and approving projects, but rarely involved in delivering them.” In 2014, The PMI’s Pulse of the Profession® In-Depth Report: Executive Sponsor Engagement— Top Driver of Project and Programme Success” stated: “Project Management Institute (PMI) research shows that having actively engaged executive sponsors is the top driver of project success”. Yet, this research also showed that “fewer than two-thirds of projects and programs have assigned executive sponsors, suggesting that organisations are not fully recognizing the importance of the role.”

The Governance role of sponsors
Sponsorship is intimately linked to governance, which can be divided into three major responsibilities:
1. The responsibility to LEAD: Define the vision; formulate (and reformulate) the strategy;
2. The responsibility to STRUCTURE: Put in place the structures and commit the resources to achieve the vision and execute the strategy; and
3. The responsibility to MASTER: Optimise the effort, manage change, monitor the achievement of the stated objectives and deliver value.

Supporting strategy execution
In today’s economy, strategy must be agile and “Everyone at the leadership level should understand that 
this won’t mean “do not have a plan;” but rather, be willing to make a plan, and then change it quickly, when the data says you should.” (

This means that, to be effective, sponsors must be ready to make decisions as the program and project, or the context and circumstances, evolve and be involved on an ongoing basis during the whole execution of the transformation, including the transition and integration of capabilities in business as usual. Value generation also means that sponsors should continually seek balance between Benefits Realization Management and Risk Optimization to achieve the highest possible value. This requires a Design Thinking approach that fosters innovation and an allocation for divergent ideas to identify the solutions that will offer the best value.

The sponsor as a leader
Active sponsors are also leaders and, as such, should empower their teams and delegate responsibilities; they must continually engage their stakeholders and listen to them to create sustainable results. They have to have intimate knowledge of their company, develop an ability to communicate at different levels and focus on the key points. They are the champions of the initiative and the motivators of the team.

Influencing organisational culture
Finally, they should heed their organization’s culture and strive for transparency, trust and feedback whilst clarifying accountability. They should work hard at creating effective internal networks and foster meaningful relationships. They will strive for simplicity in processes and reporting systems.

Effective Sponsorship
Effective sponsorship is difficult to define precisely, it is an ensemble of elements that are directed in a harmonised way and depends very much on the culture and existing structures of the organisation in which it is applied. But two things are very clear: 
1) Effective sponsors are actively and consistently involved in the business initiatives they lead;
2)They understand how to best leverage stakeholders’ engagement in their organisational context.

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