All Projects need Business Sponsorship
We’ve all known projects that have failed for one reason or another. The statistics are frightening…the Project Management Institute (PMI) 2014 Performance Report states that, across the industry, for every $1bn spent on projects an average of $109m is lost… and there are many published reasons as to why they fail – the biggest of which misalignment to strategic objectives and failure to understand and articulate the requirements sufficiently.
I want to discuss what we perceive as an equally important factor as getting the requirements captured, and that is that without strong leadership by a business sponsor projects are mostly doomed to failure before they get off the starting blocks.
Even the most seemingly mundane activity such as a desktop or server refresh project must have a compelling business reason for undertaking it – and the leadership of the project must be driven from within the business (even if it’s them Project Managed and delivered by the internal IT team or external IT supplier).
Sitting on the “supply” side of the fence, we insist that the requirements for any projects are clearly articulated and approved by the impacted stakeholders – without doing this we’re opening ourselves up to a risk of scope creep and dissatisfied customers…neither of which we can afford in our role as a trusted advisor. So that usually takes care of the biggest cause of failure and is reason enough for any customer to engage our services; however we still see projects running into trouble at some stage if there is a lack of sponsorship from within the Business.
In cases where IT departments have “dreamed up” the need for the project and have not tied it back to a tangible business benefit that their end-customer has bought into and taken ownership of, all too often the project will hit the skids as soon as involvement from the Business is required (and there really aren’t many projects which don’t require some level of business involvement…if you find one you need to consider whether it’s really worthwhile).
There are the more obvious cases for Business Sponsorship, such as the implementation of a new application which supports a specific business function, and these are usually led from within the business. Here, the problem encountered is not usually lack of ownership – but it’s critical that the Sponsor is strong and is capable of creating the vision so that the project stays focussed towards that vision. Without this, those who resist change (both passively and actively) or who have their own agendas will be able to derail the project at some point so that it fails to meet everyone’s requirements, under-delivers or that the status-quo is maintained.
Where the need for Business Sponsorship is less obvious is in Back Office or Infrastructure-type projects such as a desktop refresh, a new telephony system or migration of servers to the cloud – these tend to be seen as “IT Projects” and have don’t have a clear business owner…however when it comes to implementation their impact across the business is wide-ranging and therefore without proper business representation the implementation can either get delayed or (worse) fail.
In our experience the most effective way to entirely avoid this unfortunately scenario is for the project to have a real governance structure in place – with the (in PRINCE2 terms) roles of Project Executive and Senior User being clearly defined and fulfilled… with at least the Senior User being from within the Business. If the project is seen as an “IT Project” and is therefore funded and sponsored by the IT Department, by at least having the Senior User from within the business ensures that there is clear business involvement in the design and decision making of the project.
As all of our Project Managers are PRINCE2 certified and our own internal project delivery processes are built on PRINCE2 recommendations we often find ourselves helping our customers arrive at the most appropriate structure, making sure that all bases are covered and that the various stakeholders needs are considered – we’re happy to help in any way we can as we want the project to be a success as much as our customers do!