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This process does not have an equivalent phase in the project or programme life cycle. It describes the activities that a sponsor must perform to exercise overall control and make key decisions during the life cycle. It also includes aspects of the relationship between the sponsor and the manager.
This process is designed to achieve the goals of the sponsorship function, i.e. to:
- provide ownership of the business case;
- act as champion for the objectives of the project or programme;
- 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.
Request for authorisation typically occurs at one of three points, i.e. authorisation is requested to:
- Proceed with the definition phase
This occurs at the end of the identification process when the sponsor will be presented with a brief and a definition plan. Based on the information provided, the sponsor must decide whether it is worth investing in the definition phase.
This decision has two aspects:
Firstly, the brief and outline business case will give an indication of the viability and practicality of the proposed work. The sponsor must appreciate that this information is based on limited research and is subject to change during definition. The level of certainty in the analysis of viability need only be sufficient to justify the investment in the definition phase.
Secondly, the definition plan will provide detailed information about the duration, cost and resources required to complete the definition. At the end of the definition phase the sponsor will have a further opportunity to authorise or cancel the work.
- Commence a stage or tranche
The first time this occurs will be at the end of the definition process, where the sponsor is provided with a full set of management plans and delivery plans. This is the key decision in any project or programme.
It may be that considerable effort has been invested in getting to this point and the definition team will certainly be hoping for a positive response. However, the sponsor’s decision must be completely objective and thorough. Deciding not to proceed at this point is always a difficult decision to make and communicate, but it is far preferable to authorising work of unproven or dubious viability, desirability or achievability. The sponsor should not be afraid of requesting further information if needed.
Updated governance documents and delivery information will be reviewed before commencing each subsequent stage or tranche. At this point the sponsor must review what has been achieved, study the detailed plans for the next stage or tranche and take a view on the continuing viability, desirability or achievability of the project or programme as a whole. Only if the sponsor is convinced of the value of the entire project or programme should the next stage or tranche be authorised.
As the work proceeds it will get harder and harder to refuse authorisation because of the time and money invested so far. Human nature is inclined to be optimistic about the potential to achieve objectives. Failure to terminate projects and programmes that are no longer justifiable is a common cause of wasted investment. Sponsorship requires strong leadership and that can include taking difficult decisions.
- Implement an exception plan
In the authorised plans for a stage or tranche, the manager will have tolerances within which to work. If those tolerances are exceeded or predicted to be exceeded the manager will escalate the issue to the sponsor. In some circumstances the sponsor and manager may agree that a revised set of plans are needed to deal with the issue and bring the work back on track. This is known as an exception and when it occurs the manager will produce a revised set of delivery plans that need to be authorised.
It may well be that a project or programme is well underway but has become less viable or even non-viable in its original form. Rather than terminating the work prematurely, it may be possible to recover sunk costs by reshaping the business case. By amending the scope, adopting a new delivery approach, accepting delays, providing additional investment or a combination of all of these, it may be possible to establish the viability of a significantly revised project or programme. The new delivery plans in this situation will then be submitted for authorisation.
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In addition to formal requests such as those to authorise a stage or tranche, the sponsor should provide informal, ad-hoc support to the manager and possibly other members of the management team.
There will be many times during the course of a project or programme where the manager may need to make use of the sponsor’s experience or authority within the host organisation. This may arise for many reasons such as:
- advice on how to deal with a predicted breach of performance tolerances;
- help in areas where the manager has limited experience;
- resolution of internal conflicts between projects or programmes and business-as-usual;
- clarification of relationships between organisational strategy and the project or programme;
- dealing with stakeholder issues or risks that are outside the manager’s span of control or influence.
The sponsor should be able to act as coach, mentor and facilitator to the manager on a regular basis.
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The assurance function is concerned with verifying that management processes are adequate in design and application. Detailed assurance activities will be performed by roles outside of the management team but this work is commissioned and supervised by the sponsor. The assurance role reports to the sponsor.
If assurance reveals any weaknesses or lack of performance in the management of the project or programme, it is the sponsor’s responsibility to address and resolve the issues.
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A project or programme is closed when all the outputs have been delivered and the management and delivery teams can be disbanded. The manager will need to present the sponsor with a report showing how products have been handed over and accepted; contracts have been concluded and infrastructure has been demobilised. A post-project or post-programme review should also be completed. The sponsor may then declare the project or programme closed and inform stakeholders accordingly.
In the real world life is rarely that simple. Projects and programmes do not come to a clean and sudden conclusion. There will always be loose ends to tie up and residual work to be concluded. This should not prevent the formal closure from being confirmed. Outstanding matters should be recorded in a follow-on actions report. Provided the sponsor is content that this report covers all outstanding items and adequate arrangements have been made to ensure they will be completed, then closure can be confirmed.
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A business case will contain a list of benefits that justified the project or programme in the first place. In most cases these benefits will not have been achieved when closure is confirmed. The realisation of benefits is usually something that is achieved by the users of the outputs and may continue for some time after the project or programme has been closed.
The sponsor owns the business case and will continue to monitor the achievements of benefits after closure. Sponsors remain in post until a benefits review demonstrates that the business case has either been achieved; will be achieved without further change activity or demonstrably cannot now be achieved.
The management team will probably have been demobilised before the final benefits review is conducted. It will be necessary for the sponsor to commission the review using business-as-usual resources with external assurance as necessary.
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Projects and programmes
As the complexity of the work increases, the sponsor may need to be supported by a programme board. This is useful, for example, where there are joint venture partners in a major infrastructure projects or in a programme involving significant cross-departmental change management. In the first example senior representatives of the partner organisation will make up the board while in the second the board will comprise senior departmental heads.
As complexity increases and the sponsorship process grows, the sponsor may need help from senior members of a support office to whom some responsibilities may be delegated.
Regardless of their makeup these boards are chaired by the sponsor who retains ultimate accountability for the business case and decisions that affect it.
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