The support of well-placed and well-backed sponsors is critical to executing strategic projects. As our project management consultants help clients work through their high-visibility and high-risk initiatives, we know that sponsor backing is particularly important when a project requires significant allocations of funds or personnel. Those projects that are expected to create widespread changes in workflows and other internal processes also benefit from strong sponsor support.
While many sponsors are directly involved in reviewing and approving financial requests or providing staff to carry out project tasks, that isn’t always the case. In some instances, sponsor support comes in the form of influence.
Influential sponsors are valuable members of the project team because they’re uniquely positioned to convince high-ranking people to throw their support behind key projects. They can also be important partners in securing the cooperation of other internal groups, whether they’re contributors to the project effort or they are among the work groups affected by the initiative’s process and workflow changes.
No matter if a sponsor gives final approval for funding requests or they whisper in the right ears to help move strategic efforts forward, project teams may face challenges when a sponsor leaves (or joins) the group. If you’re worried about losing or gaining a sponsor, consider these tips to help manage the challenges of project sponsor turnover.
Deal with shifting priorities
New sponsors often bring some of their own priorities and areas of interest. A formerly high-visibility deliverable may fall out of favor, or a project element that was previously only a minor factor might suddenly be top of mind. You may encounter changes in priorities when an executive joins the project because of a corporate reorganization, for example, but it’s also something to watch for when a sponsor is also new to the company.
Try this: Provide historical information to demonstrate how priorities were established during the initial planning phase, and who was involved in those decisions. You should also clearly describe—with accompanying data where possible—how the initiative’s expected results are likely to change if priorities are upended mid-project.
Work through a loss of funding support
Even if a project’s overall priority doesn’t change, your allocated financial resources could still diminish as a result of a sponsor shakeup. This could be due to new, money-hungry projects added to the pipeline, or a sponsor-led push to redirect funds to other operational areas inside the business.
Try this: Touch base with your other sponsors and executives to gather their insights on how to fill any financial gaps and keep the project’s scope and schedule intact. Be prepared with budget details and project status data in case additional justifications are requested. In addition, show how anticipated deliverables may need to be trimmed if the initiative’s funding isn’t restored.
Minimize your time investments repeatedly bringing new sponsors up to speed
Some companies are notorious for frequently switching out project sponsors, a practice that’s highly disruptive for teams trying to maintain schedule align and ensure resources remain properly committed. Repeated requests for meetings or one-on-one introductory discussions to present your project’s scope, deliverables, risks, and status to each new sponsor is just one way your time may be misused, and it’s something your team needs to actively monitor and manage.
Try this: A strong project management methodology with a companion data platform that delivers on-demand access to metrics and other information is essential. This easy data sharing strategy not only provides the visibility your new sponsors want but also empowers your team to continue focusing on the activities that will keep your project on track for a successful completion.