Sponsors - guardian guide or guru

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Projects need sponsors. If there weren't any sponsors, there wouldn't be many projects. But is the sponsor a Guardian, a Guide or a Guru? Are they there to protect, point in the right direction, or offer advice? Or all three? Whatever they are, it's a very important role and the significance of the project sponsor is only now starting to become more widely recognised. But there's usually more that needs to be done to make sure sponsors are adding as much value as they need to.

All organisations have some form of project governance in place - steering groups, change committees, project boards, gates and so on. However, they are not always used in the most effective way. Project and programme managers often see them as either unnecessary bureaucracy or a box ticking exercise. Sponsors see them as essential, to ensure that their money is being spent effectively, but often feel that they're not getting the whole truth or that the wool is being pulled over their eyes.

We're told that 70% of Change initiatives fail. There are many reasons for this frightening statistic but the project sponsors will definitely have something to do with it. Anyone who's been around projects for a while will tell you that stakeholder engagement is a really important part of the process - miss this out and things are likely to go wrong, quickly! Sponsors, who are usually senior executives, should be good at this and should be able to offer guidance as well as doing some of the legwork.

Sponsors have usually been around the block a few times too, but the project manager sometimes spends an inordinate amount of time making sure that the latest Steering Group presentation gets as few questions as possible! The sponsor and the project manager need to be allies - they're both after the same thing after all; a successful project.

How much sponsors are involved will vary during the lifecycle of the project, as the graphic below shows. To begin with they have a high level of involvement, ensuring that the project is properly set and making sure that it will yield the benefits that they want. Once the planning has been done, involvement is lower apart from regular steering group or review meetings.

The role of the sponsor and the responsibilities of the governance groups have far more influence on the success of project investments than the choice of methodology, and money spent on developing governance gives a far greater return than money spent on tools. Sponsors should be focusing on a list of critical factors:

So it looks like a project sponsor needs to be a Guardian and a Guide and a Guru, all at the same time! It's not an easy job, but someone's got to do it!


Rupert Fairclough
Managing Consultant, CITI Limited


Rupert Fairclough

Rupert Fairclough

I facilitate change by solving problems and coaching managers to be better at what they do
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