The results are in and they haven’t changed. 50% of all projects fail due to people related issues. Most of these failures are a result a lack of visible an active sponsorship.

In my experience, there are three factors that affect a sponsor’s ability to effectively lead a project:
1. Access to resources.
2. Positioned at the right level in the organization.
3. Adequate influence within the organization.

Here’s what happens:

Access to resources. I have experienced more projects with delays and slowdowns because the leader of the project had to seek approval for spending money, hiring resources, or reallocating team resources. These delays led to postponed due dates and loss of morale. Most seriously, these delays led to loss of value because the business case was dependent upon an implementation that didn’t happen when it was supposed to.

Positioned at the right level in the organization. When a leader of a project does not report at the right level, employees are not going to look to him for guidance and direction. I see this as a major issue for many cross-functional projects. These “sponsors” don’t have the authority to make decisions about scope, resources or other factors that impact the ability for the project to proceed. Everyone impacted by the project needs to have some sort of reporting relationship up to the sponsor.

Influence. In addition to not being able to influence resource decisions or other project decisions, a sponsor develops a relationship with the stakeholders impacted by a project. They build trust and confidence in the organization by being visible and candid, speaking openly about the value of the change to both the organization and individual employees. I once knew a leader who managed by fear and then didn’t understand why people wouldn’t change when he wanted them to.

The minimum requirements for an effective sponsor are: they can quickly make resource decisions for the project; they are at the right level to make decisions about scope, resources, and other risks that affect the project; and they have the leadership ability – read “influence” – to build relationships based on trust and integrity.

Over the next three weeks we will discuss each of these elements in more detail. In the meantime, if you are considering appointing a sponsor for a change project in your organization, select them based on these three basic criteria above.

Dedicated to your profitable transition,


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