Are Sponsors over worked and under effective?

Sleepy-Sponsor1The Institute of Project Management (Ireland)  has published a  survey is based on self-reported information from their course based on nine major position descriptions/levels in reporting the data comparing the expected number of hours to be worked based on their terms of employment and the actual number of hours typically worked. The averaged data from senior management positions is worrying:

  • Director of PMO; expected: 39.0 Hrs, actual: 60.0 Hrs
  • Portfolio Manager; expected: 37.0 Hrs, actual: 50.0 Hrs
  • Project Manager (Senior); expected: 37.9 Hrs, actual: 50.3 Hrs.

Combine these findings with data from PMI on the hours worked by Sponsors (download the PMI report on ‘Executive Sponsor Engagement’) with many reporting working weeks of 50 to 60 hours on their ‘day job’ before taking on the additional responsibilities of sponsoring a project or a program; and, that effective sponsors report that typically they are working on three projects at a time, spending an average of 13 hours per week on each, the problem of over extension of key executives becomes obvious.

Combine these findings with the demonstrated correlation between effective sponsorship and achieving project success, the over extension of senior managers has serious consequences:

  • Sponsors have inadequate time to understand the project’s requirements and support the project manager leading to an increased probability of failure;
  • Tired managers make poor decisions, and tiredness affects ethical standards (see: Tired workers lose their ethics);
  • There is frequently not enough time to train the sponsor in his/her role further reducing their effectiveness; and
  • These pressures often lead to a lack of continuity in the sponsorship role, which is another identified source of project failure.

The evidence is clear, organisations that fail to effectively sponsor their projects and programs are making an overt commitment to wasting the organisation’s time, money and resources – there is an 80% greater probability of failure and no amount of effort at the ‘project management’ level can overcome executive management failures.

Sleepy-Sponsor2One simple way to stop the waste is for an organisation to defer any project where it is unable to find a committed, trained sponsor, with adequate time, energy and skills to properly fulfil their role. No sponsor – no project! (See more on the role of a sponsor)  This may sound extreme, but if the executive management team do not see the project as being sufficiently important to the organisation they manage, to reorganise the disposition of executive resources to properly support the work, then the project is probably not that important anyway. The organisation will be better off not spending the money and wasting its resources.

The governance challenge is creating a management culture that on one hand, actively encourages the deferment of projects that are inadequately supported (eg, don’t have a sponsor); and on the other actively encourages the development of the organisation’s capability to excel at the ‘the management of projects’ (see more on the strategic management of projects).

Sleepy-Sponsor3Creating this culture is a critical governance issue (see more on the governance of project management).  If an organisation cannot implement projects and programs efficiently, it cannot adapt and change to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing world which will inevitably lead to the organisation becoming obsolete. However, achieving the necessary changes won’t happen if the executive team are already overextended – the situation highlighted in both of the reports referenced in this post! Building the organisational capability to efficiently its projects and programs is itself a major change initiative that needs resourcing and sponsoring at the highest levels.

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One Response to Are Sponsors over worked and under effective?

  1. stakeholdermanagement says:

    Thank you for this interesting article Lynda.

    I think there is a huge amount of information in this article and I would like to pick out a number of points:

    1. Role of the project sponsor; I am declaring an interest as I am co-author of Strategies for Project Sponsorship. We found there was no accepted prescribed role for project sponsors. We developed a role through our experience and testing on workshops and produced a 17 point role document. This is available free at http://strategies4sponsors.com

    This lack of knowledge means project sponsors and executives cannot carry out their role effectively which leads to them taking on the role as a sponsor with too little knowledge

    2. Researches from Strategies for Project Sponsorship lead us to identify 9 different types of project sponsor. The typology was developed from the stories told to us by various recipients – 99% negative. You could argue that the reason they are all negative is because they have too little time. From a personal view point, I would argue that it is because there is such a lack of education and training at the sponsor level which stops them carrying out their role effectively. Of course, we could get into a circular argument asking have they got the time to carry out their role. However, to do so means they must understand it…..

    3. No sponsor – no project. I endorse this approach. I wonder though how many companies would support this idea. Many companies do not understand the strategic nature of project/portfolio/programme management. The question has to be asked, how can this be overcome? We need a large push for education and training at the top of companies for ‘project management training’ (the exact nature depends upon each company however project sponsorship and what it means needs to be pretty central)

    Thanks again Lynda. Interesting points which need to be debated more and more.

    Ron Rosenhead
    Chief Executive, Project Agency
    (forwarded by email)

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