10 Cardinal Sins of Project Sponsorship

Before we move to the core subject I would like to share some staticstics – source: PMI’s Pulse of the Profession.
81% of projects at high-performing organizations” those that complete 80% of projects on time, on budget and within original goals have active sponsors. At low-performing organizations, just 45% of projects have active sponsors.
66% of strategic initiatives are successful when they have actively engaged sponsors. Without active sponsors, just 41% of strategic initiatives are successful.
81% of organizations that are highly effective with organizational change report frequently using executive sponsors on their strategic initiatives, compared to only 25% of organizations minimally effective.
When it comes to complexity in projects, a sponsor who actively supports the project is the second factor with the greatest impact on the success of projects second only to effective communication.
1.    Lack of leadership
Leaders should lead. And this does not apply to Project Manager but to a skilled executive sponsor! Each project should have such a sponsor who is responsible for inspiring, promoting collaboration, decisions & consensus!
  • Ensure that there is clarity about the aims and objectives of major projects, and there are clear criteria against which success of a project can be judged.
  • Clearly articulate the business case or rationale for why this change is needed
  • Communicate how this project relates to the overall vision, strategy, and mission of the organization
  • Communicate strong ownership and personal commitment for this project
2.    Environment not supporting the project work
  • Create an environment within the organization in which project management can succeed: trust, open dialog, collaboration, creativity, sharing ideas, championing issues, taking decisions, keeping promises.
  • Run emotions high. Nothing affects project value more than the organisational culture. Understand the level of your company emotional maturity and constantly work to improve it.
  • Don’t fail to fail..
  • People over process. Create and maintain community – a unified body of individuals with common interests interacting and collaborating! Collaboration creates value.


Source: www.freedigitalphotos.net by Vlado
3.    Not understanding the scale and complexity
  • Consider carefully the scale and complexity of projects to assess whether they are achievable.
  • Estabkish clear priority among project time, cost, and quality specifications
  • Ensure realistic timelines,
  • Break down initiatives  into manageable projects, milestones each delivering an auditable
    business benefit.
  • Build enough high-level review points  into the project to ensure that it is not allowed to continue if changing circumstances mean that the business benefit is no longer going to be achieved cost effectively.
  • Be aware of the importance of halting a project that has been overtaken by events, rather than continuing to spend money.
4.    Too many active projects
Very often there are too many projects opened as sponsors think that if a project is important needs to be started.
  • The best way to finish a project quickly is to staff it optimally. Fewer projects in portfolio means more stuff completed by the end of the year, so prioritize your projects and start when you have resources.
5.    Lack of flexibility/agility 
„Organizations exist in a constantly changing competitive environment, so scope might need to change, particularly if it’s a very long project.” David West
  • Make sure there are considerable benefits in introducing systems in phases, phase it
  • Anticipate Surprises! Ensure project plans are sufficiently flexible to allow for the insertion of technological advances where relevant.
6.    Micromanagement
The shift from micromanagement and looking at the project from a task perspective to team empowerment, self-organisation, self-motivation, trust, authority and ownership are the key to success of today’s complex and risky projects.
Micromanaging is „the cardinal sin of project sponsorship”. When both parties do the work of building trust, outlining roles and responsibilities, and communicating regularly, micromanagement shouldn’t be an issue.
7.    Not proper risk management – both threats and opportunities
  • Ensure decisions on projects, both prior to inception and during development, are based on rigorous assessment of costs and benefits, and a realistic assessment of risks.
  • Make sure there are a risk management framework for projects, within which people are empowered to make decisions as the costs, benefits and risks change during the project’s life
  • Ensure risk assessment is carried out throughout the project, in particular to assess whether the business case continues to be viable in the light of actual incurred and changing business requirements
8.  Lack of high-quality project management skills
The development of high-quality project management skills within the organization is essential. The whole organisation, both sponsors and project managers must speak the same language.
„Just as a doctor might need to translate medical terms for a patient, a project manager can help the sponsor understand things like earned value analysis and critical path.” David West
  • Establish project management as a distinct profession
  • Ensure that principles of good project management are understood and followed throughout the organization
  • Reward project managers for their part in delivering projects successfully
  • Project managers must be encouraged to draw risks to the attention of senior management in order to alert them to problems. They must be encouraged to undertake active management of change to project agreements, costs, benefits, risks, timescales, technology and organization, and not simply adhere to organizational project plans or project management methodologies.
9.    Lack of or poor relations between customer and suppliers
Relations between customer and suppliers have a crucial effect on the success of the project.
  • Maintain a close relationship with suppliers, but avoid undue reliance on them, and maintain overall ownership of progress to achieving the intended benefits.
  • Ensure that all parties have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities, and a share understanding of key terms and deadlines
  • Make sure there is an ongoing process of agreement management during the life of the project to allow for the almost inevitable change to requirements.  The aim should be to manage rather than police, project agreements.
10. No lessons learnt gathered
It is essential that organizations learn from past mistakes and consider how they can co-ordinate better their considerable resources to ensure better value for money in the future.
  • Seek to review the success of projects as soon as possible so that lessons can be fed back into consideration of later projects.
  • Ensure reviews are undertaken in a constructive and open manner with the aim of improving future project performance.
  • Make sure reviews should be undertaken from project, portfolio and organisation perspective.

PMI is the registered trade marks of the Project Management Institute, Inc.


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