Build Sponsorship, Boost the Portfolio

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Categories: Portfolio Management

We've all been there. Portfolio managers have done their job of setting long-term objectives and a clear strategy. Projects have been selected and prioritized. And yet the organization is still having trouble gleaning real benefits — i.e., results that create business value and contribute to its strategic objectives — from projects and, subsequently, its portfolio. 

This disconnect is often rooted in weak sponsorship, and that's often a result of project sponsors not knowing their roles. When that happens, they aren't able to support projects in a way that aligns a portfolio to the organization's grand strategic plan. Project sponsors are instrumental in a project's selection and categorization, allocating resources, and monitoring and communicating its progress to the highest rungs of an organization. As a high-level decision-maker, an effective project sponsor gives the portfolio more agility and flexibility to adapt and absorb changes.

While fostering the right kind of project sponsor won't happen overnight, it can start right away. To do so, executive-level management — many of which could be sponsors — should:

  • Make strategic planning a continuous and dynamic process
  • Appoint and assign a sponsor responsible for every business objective 
  • Provide mentoring and coaching to sponsors, in addition to some portfolio and project management training
Project managers can also help sponsors support projects better by communicating in the same language. Project managers should translate technical issues (such as scope and deliverables) into tangible business results (i.e., return on investment, profit, revenue and costs) for sponsors. In this manner, sponsors and project managers together can handle the internal environment (project team and processes) and the external environment (organizational structure, strategy and market demands).

Do you have strong project sponsorship in your organization? In your experience, can effective sponsorship boost the entire portfolio's performance?
Posted by Mario Trentim on: May 10, 2013 09:10 PM | Permalink

Comments (4)

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Kit Leong
From a vendor's perspective, project sponsorship is paramount to ensure sufficient support, investment, client engagement and involvement in client steering committees is given. Effective sponsorship is critical in a world of competing business resources and shrinking revenue. It determines which projects get the necessary profile, the required escalation and management support before it turns pear shape! The cost of remedial work if far more expensive than adequate sponsorship involvement (think legal fees and brand tarnishment!). The challenge here is how to find the right kind of sponsors for the set of projects/portfolio. We often mix up the criteria for sponsorship vs stakeholders. Just because the sponsor’s area is significantly impacted by the projects delivery and also has to foot the bill, does make that person an adequate sponsor. Projects need sponsors that has an overall enterprise view of the collective business drivers, objectives, corporate vision and strategy to ensure that the portfolio of projects are ‘sponsored’ holistically and not personally motivated by the individual’s political objectives.

Mário Trentim
Thank you, Kit. As you said, effective sponsorship is critical, hands down. I agree with you that projects need sponsors with corporate vision, senior managers. Moreover, it is extremely important that they understand project management and its challenges. I see companies providing PM courses tailored to their sponsors. We did that and it improved our projects´ results a lot.

Mario H Trentim
Kit Leong, I couldn't agree more with you. You just described the role of a good sponsor. I also agree that it is a great challenge for organisations to develop or grow good sponsors. That's why many courses and trainings are been designed and delivered around the world. I personally teach a project management course dedicated to sponsors and senior management. The results so far are very promising. Thanks for your comment.

Sruthi Vangala
In multidimensional projects, with memberships from SMEs and leaders across a big organization, a sponsor map can help managers understand who can help push their objectives forward. Such a map helps the PM understand how each sponsor should be engaged. Additionally, a map helps the PM understand who in the team is connected to each of the various sponsors. Laying this map out will help the PM get in front of any issues and ensure that all the various sponsors are being utilized in a way that benefits the initiative at hand.

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