Not everyone has what it takes to be a sponsor.

Not everyone has what it takes to be a sponsor.

Not everyone can or should be a sponsor. Good sponsorship requires resources, influence and interest in varying degrees.

Definitions:

Influence is the ability to make something happen or in some cases to make “things” not happen. Sponsors apply influence in a variety of ways including helping teams acquire resources or to remove barriers. Early in my career I had to ask a sponsor to make a call to get a schedule change so that my team did not have to move offices the week before a major production implementation. Influence can be used to remove barriers that are outside of the team’s control.

Resources, in their simplest form, begin with the check (budget) that the sponsor writes for the project. Managers transform the budget into a team, buy software, and secure team workspace or other project needs. Without resources, the duration of any project will be very short.

Interest is the feeling of wanting to learn more about the project which translates into attention, concern, or curiosity. The higher the level of interest in a project the more energy the sponsor will expend to pay attention to what is happening as the project progresses.

Project criticality, defined as the quality, state or degree of being of the highest importance, will impact the type of sponsor required. How does project criticality affect the need for specific levels of resources, influence and interest equation?

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Resources (at least over short to medium term) are closer to constant than a variable, either the project has the resources required or they do not. While there are theoretical discussions on the impact of somewhat constraining a project by providing them slightly less than what is requested, if a project does not have enough money they fail sooner or later. The higher the level of criticality more important the sponsor’s access to resources will be to ensure the project is not negatively constrained.

Criticality and the need for a sponsor to provide influence are positively correlated. The more critical a project, the more influence a sponsor may need to bring to bear to ensure focus and fend off distractions. Consider the impact to a project to a project if a team needs to be diverted to deal with urgent, but not important, interruptions. Interruptions rarely positively impact a project, and the higher the criticality the higher the chance that an avoidable interruption will impact the team or the project’s value.

While sponsors should be interested in any project they sponsor; the more critical a project is the more interest they will need to exhibit. Critical projects generally need the attention and involvement high levels of interest generate.   A sponsor that pays attention to project will be better positioned to provide support, motivation, influence and extra resources if needed.

Sponsors that cannot deliver the proper level resources, influence or interest for their projects will be poor sponsors. Projects of all types need to understand that because sponsors are human there will be variability in the amount of resources, influence and interest that can be brought to bear and attributes like criticality will required different levels of support. Project leaders and teams approach potential gaps in sponsorship as a risk, and should be assessed and mitigated if needed.

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