Sponsorship provides ownership of, and accountability for, the business case and ensures that the work is governed effectively.
The goals of sponsorship are to:
- provide ownership of the business case;
- act as champion for the objectives of the project, programme or portfolio;
- make go/no go decisions at relevant points in the life cycle;
- address matters outside the scope of the manager’s authority;
- oversee assurance;
- give ad-hoc support to the management team.
There are various names given to the role that provides sponsorship, such as: executive, senior responsible owner or client. In Praxis the role is referred to as the sponsor.
A common failure in less mature organisations occurs when the role of sponsor is not taken seriously. It must be an active role fulfilled by someone who is committed to performing the activities set out in the sponsorship process.
It will depend upon the context of the work whether sponsorship is provided by an individual alone or with the support of others.
Where a sponsor is supported by other managers they are commonly referred to as a project or programme board. Within a board the sponsor retains ownership of, and accountability for, the business case.
While the sponsor’s primary role is to ensure that the business case continues to justify the work throughout the life cycle, this would not be possible without an effective working relationship with the project or programme manager.
To the extent that, if the business case ceases to justify continuing investment, the sponsor needs to work with the manager to redefine or prematurely close the project or programme.
This relationship is illustrated by the links between the sponsorship process and the other processes. In fact there is a close relationship between those links and each of the sponsorship goals.
The sponsor usually has responsibility to others within the host organisation or perhaps an external client. This responsibility includes ensuring that the work is being managed effectively. The sponsor does this through assurance, which is an independent review of the management of the work.
A sponsor must be someone who:
- has the credibility to provide leadership that crosses corporate and departmental boundaries;
- is genuinely enthusiastic about the objectives of the project or programme;
- is able and willing to commit time and energy to the fulfilment of the role.
Although sponsors do not have to be ex-project or programme managers, their job will be a great deal easier if they have a good understanding of the manager’s role.
Projects, programmes and portfolios
The role of the sponsor must reflect the context and complexity of the work. Ideally, the sponsor will be appointed soon after the issue of the mandate. The role then continues through until the end of the life cycle. On non-complex projects this will be once the final output has been completed and handed over. On projects and programmes that include benefits within their scope the sponsor will typically remain in post until the benefits realisation process is complete and the business case has been achieved.
Where a project is performed by a supplier organisation on behalf of a client, it is often the case that the sponsor is from the client organisation and the manager is from the supplier. In this situation it can be useful to have a senior representative of the supplier working with the sponsor on a project or programme board.
The stakeholder environment on a project or programme is independent of the complexity of its scope. Even small projects can have difficult stakeholders to deal with. The seniority and credibility of the sponsor must reflect the complexity of the stakeholder environment. Excellent communication and influencing skills will be needed, especially where there is opposition to change.
In the programme and portfolio environment an individual may combine sponsorship and managerial roles. For example, a programme manager may act as sponsor to the programme’s component projects. In fact, on a large complex project, the relationship between the overall project manager and the project managers of supplier ‘sub-projects’ is very similar to the sponsor-manager relationship.
At portfolio level the sponsorship role usually expands to cover broader aspects of governance. Hence the corresponding process is called the portfolio governance process.
While it is very unusual for a portfolio to have a single, focused business case, the sponsor of a portfolio is accountable for the overall effectiveness of the component projects and programmes. This is as much about supporting and promoting the discipline and profession of P3 management, as it is about the objectives of individual projects and programmes.
A portfolio sponsor must ensure that the portfolio performs consistently in order to deliver the host-organisation’s strategic objectives. One way of achieving this is by using the capability maturity framework as a catalyst for improvement.