The role of project sponsors is often overlooked. But for every stage of a project, there are key executive sponsor behaviors that can make the difference between success and failure.
Companies undertake projects to create and improve their products, systems and services. To improve the chances that projects will be successful, it’s common for organizations to choose senior executives with an interest in the outcome to act as the project’s sponsors. Executive sponsors are responsible for lining up the necessary resources at the beginning, managing (or personally performing) certain activities while the project is underway, and ultimately delivering results.1 Since executive sponsors rarely have enough time to manage projects personally, they must rely heavily on project managers. So which activities and behaviors can busy sponsors perform in the course of a project to increase the chances of a project’s success?
According to recent studies, this is an important question. The Project Management Institute, a professional association for project management professionals based in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, states that having executive sponsors who are actively engaged is the leading factor in project success.2
In researching what makes for successful project sponsorship, we used a project life-cycle model with four stages: (1) initiating — from the preliminary idea through approved charter; (2) planning — from approved charter through approved project plan; (3) executing — from approved project plan through acceptance of major deliverables; and (4) closing — from acceptance of major deliverables through final completion. Projects come in many shapes and sizes, and many life-cycle models are used to guide behavior and understanding. We chose to use the simplest model.
Most successful organizations are familiar with the initiating stage of a project. Also well accepted is that there are steps that need to be taken to close down the project after the major project deliverables are completed. While the first and last stages of projects are clear, in some settings, the planning takes place before executing starts; other times, there is overlap between planning and executing, or the two are iterative. To ensure that our research was valid for all types of projects, we specifically asked participants in our planning study to focus on planning behaviors and participants in the executing study to focus on executing behaviors.