The Successful initiation of a new project is often based upon project sponsorship. If the project sponsor (investor) funds the project well, it has the required financial position to carry out works, achieve desired objectives and produce deliverables.
The sponsor authorizes the necessary resources and makes decisions related to finances and cash flows of the project. Now let’s attempt to examine the role and responsibilities of a project sponsor, by first of all asking;
Who is a Project Sponsor?
A Project sponsor is a person(s) or an organization(s) that is/are in charge of driving the project towards directions that will aid in successful realization of expected benefits. Project sponsor finances project initiatives and approved ideas, takes care of engagement processes, facilitates the development of initial scope and the project charter, and participates in processes of communications management.
The Sponsor is the person best positioned in the organization to launch the planning group, to validate its recommended plan and to establish and sustain the climate of accountability required for its successful implementation over time.
In most instances, the Sponsor is a senior-level general manager with direct authority for the greatest number of key functions in the operating system. In smaller organizations, the Sponsor is typically the chief executive officer, managing director or chief operating officer. In larger organizations, the Sponsor may be a group or divisional president or director, or an SBU general manager. When the operating system is centred on a major corporate function, the Sponsor may be the head of that function.
At this juncture, let’s attempt to discuss both the behaviour requirement of the Sponsor, and the view point that is expected influence such a given behaviour. The Sponsor may or may not actually participate directly as a member of the planning group. In smaller organizations where the Sponsor is likely to be a member of the planning group, the relationship is direct, informal and continuous. Thus many of the issues that arise are resolved immediately. In larger organizations, the Sponsor is often one or two step removed from the operating system and unlikely to be a member of the planning group. In these instances, the relationship is more formal and episodic, and requires structuring.
With these distinctions in mind, the Sponsor in both small and large organizations has an important role to play in setting the stage for formulating the operating plan. First, the Sponsor must validate the definition of the operating system. The Sponsor must ensure that all key functions, processes, systems, workflows, interactions, etc. are included within the boundaries of the organizational territory to be addressed by the operating plan. The Sponsor should also determine whether a single operating plan is sufficient and manageable, or whether more than one operating plan will be required, and if so, how to subdivide the macro operating system.
Once the operating system(s) has been determined, the Sponsor should decide which functions, activities, systems, etc. must be represented in each planning group, and validate the prospective members. Such decisions depend on judgements about the relative importance of each element of the operating system in the context of likely required changes.
Once individuals are selected to participate, the Sponsor should establish a supportive climate for their involvement. Planning group members need to know what is expected of them, the broad context of the work they are about to undertake, and its importance, especially if a group process approach to plan formulation is new to the organization. Furthermore, as their involvement in the planning group is a part-time assignment in addition to their normal duties, members need to understand its priority. The Sponsor is well positioned to answer such questions, and should do so before the planning group begins its work.
To be effective both in setting the stage for formulating the operating plan and supporting its implementation, the Sponsor’s point of view is crucial. The more a Sponsor believes in or at least feels relatively comfortable with the following four fundamental concepts, the more effective will be the climate established both for the work of the planning group, and later for plan implementation,
1. The key to successful implementation of any business strategy is to achieve appropriate changes in the way its operating system works. This requires a carefully conceived, comprehensive and integrated approach. An operating plan is a primary mechanism for articulating and communicating such an approach. The key to success is defining the issue as a systems problem and addressing it accordingly.
2. Improving the performance of large, complex operating systems is a matter requiring investment decisions with entrepreneurial risks. One such investment is the time and effort required to formulate a sound, credible plan.
3. A sound, credible plan is more likely to be developed when the key, knowledgeable managers participate in vigorous, open debate before key choices and decisions are taken.
4. A foundation for successful implementation is best established when the managers who are key to carrying out the plan are directly involved in its formulation. This is the best way to ensure their understanding and commitment.
Once the territorial boundaries for the operating system have been defined, the Sponsor designated, and the planning group formed and briefed, they are now ready to go to work.