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Thoughts on Sponsorship

I was asked over the summer to write an article on Sponsorship for the APM Yearbook and its recent publication has made me thing again about this subject. Fortunately, I find that I still agree with what I wrote!

An obvious problem

Two key facts scream for our attention

  1. A variety of sources including a National Audit Office report agree that poor sponsorship underlies most project failure
  2. Most projects have poor sponsorship

An untreated problem

Hence the major cause of project morbidity is well known, but the prescribed treatment is being systematically ignored! If you doubt the latter, compare the current level of investment made in the training of project managers with the (lack of) training for project sponsors.

Both roles are essential for project success, but one is being ignored - why is that? I suspect that confusion in terminology has not helped: do we mean sponsor or Sponsor or SRO or Executive Sponsor or ... But this cannot be the whole problem. Perhaps it is assumed that the skills and expertise required by a Sponsor must be present in any senior manager, but why should this be so? Project working is different from normal operational working and managers have, in general, been trained for the latter. But seniority can be a barrier to admitting any lack of expertise.

A soluble problem

Whatever the reasons, the cure is to ensure that Sponsors not only understand their role but have the skills and expertise to perform it well. Where this is addressed head on, the benefits to an organisation can be huge. After all, doing the wrong project is much more expensive than doing the right project badly - and that is just one of the ways that good sponsorship can help.