To improve the chances that projects will be successful, organizations often choose senior executives
with an interest in the outcome to act as the project sponsors. Executive sponsors are responsible for
lining up the necessary resources at the beginning, managing certain activities while the project is under
way, and ultimately delivering results. Since 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 project success?
In researching what makes for successful project sponsorship, the authors 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.
Project success historically has been defined by the “iron triangle” of cost, schedule and performance.
The authors use a broader definition based on three success factors. The first success factor involves
impact on the project’s customers, which is almost always the most important success measure. The
second success factor involves meeting agreements: Was the project completed on time, on budget and
to specifications? The third success factor is tied to the future benefits to the company, be they new
technology, new products, new markets and/or commercial success.
The authors conducted separate studies of each project life-cycle stage, using literature reviews, focus
groups, surveys and factor analysis in order to examine sponsor behavior and project success factors.
For each stage, they found that two or three behaviors had a significant impact on the project success
factors. In the initiating stage, the important behaviors for executive sponsors involve setting performance goals for the project, selecting and mentoring the project manager and establishing priorities. In the project’s planning stage, the key sponsor behaviors are ensuring planning and developing relationships with stakeholders. While the project is being executed, important roles for executive sponsors involve ensuring adequate and effective communication, maintaining relationships with stakeholders and ensuring quality. In the project’s closing stage, identifying and capturing lessons learned and ensuring that capabilities and benefits are realized are critical sponsor activities.