Sprinkled throughout many books, project kick-off decks, and lists of project success criteria, is the notion that your program or project needs Visible Executive Sponsorship. If you Google the topic you will see that there is widespread agreement that this is “important”. You will also see that there are various studies that show that project success is tied to visible Executive Sponsorship and that very high percentages of failed projects list the lack of Executive Sponsorship as a key reason. However, I rarely see the more practical aspects of recruiting Executive Sponsors, what visibility really means, and tangible advice on how to make the sponsors visible. Whether you are planning your EPM Strategic Roadmap, or just upgrading from BPC v7.5 to 10.0, getting the right Executive Sponsor on board is essential.
When recruiting Executive Sponsors for your program or project, Column5 recommends to go as high as possible in your organization. Many projects settle for someone much lower in the hierarchy who lacks both influence and panache. Buy-in for your initiative can be much more easily achieved by being sponsored by a corporate “rock star”. Imagine if you were told you were working on Tim Cook’s pet project??? There are practical reasons as well…
Practically, the higher the level in the organization you are, the easier it is to get decisions made. It’s always frustrating for the PMO to raise a critical issue that needs a fast decision in a Steering Committee meeting and have your ‘sponsor’ say, “Let me talk to my boss to see if he can talk to the other department heads and see if their bosses will approve that recommendation”. Meanwhile, your project loses time, burns budget, and maybe starts to slip off track. Many projects have “sponsors” who lack the authority to make the key decisions needed and own only one part of the end to end business process.
Politically, a very senior sponsor helps you achieve one of your project’s key organizational change management goals: Overcoming Resistance. I have seen lots of infighting and ambivalence within companies. It’s quite common that the head of one silo is not interested at all in the A, #1, TOP priority project of another silo. However – if their boss says that the project is important, is a key component of his/her strategic vision, is critical for achieving this year’s targets – then the project gets the support and cooperation that is needed.
Shine a spotlight on it!
There are many opportunities for the PMO to get the Executive Sponsor involved and in front of your key stakeholders. The key is to choose a number events/vehicles that will be the most impactful, and also to be smart about the demands you are putting on the Executive Sponsor. The involvement of the Executive Sponsor throughout the life of the project should be mapped out in your communications plan (you have one of those –right?).
Kick it off right (you planned a kick off with all the stakeholders from your stakeholder analysis – right?)! The Executive Sponsor should be the first person who speaks. Get him/her signed up well in advance. Give him/her some slides to show how your project ties to the company’s vision, priorities, and/or key initiatives. Column5 helped a recent client clearly communicate how the roadmap for BPC fit into the overall EPM strategy, which was tied to the Finance department’s vision, which was linked directly to the company’s overall growth initiative.
Celebrate success. Have the Executive Sponsor show up at the celebrations of project milestones. They can congratulate the team on achieving the milestone, let the team know that they are keeping a close eye on the project, emphasize again the importance of the benefits this project will bring, and help provide some motivation for the next phases.
Big company events. Whether it’s the holiday party, the quarterly company update, or whatever… Push hard to make sure your project gets into the agenda or in the remarks somehow. This helps boost the profile of your project to the entire audience. It builds confidence in the team that they are working on something that is adding value. It helps in overcoming resistance, because those change laggards who are not in acceptance yet see that the project is NOT going away.
The newsletter/Intranet/corporate memo. Almost every company has a forum where the leadership team communicates with the entire company. Like the big company event – this is a great way for your Executive Sponsor to provide visible support. Be aware of how often it is published, the timelines and approval processes for submitting articles, and how to get a prime spot. Get your message out there!
The most effective example I have ever witnessed of visible Executive Sponsorship was on a global transformational project. The project had around 500 internal and external resources from across the globe. The keynote speaker of the project kick-off was the Global CEO of this company that has more than $1.1 billion of revenue annually. Not the President of one division, not the EPM business owner, not the CIO, not the CFO of one business– but the Global CEO!!! He said in his own words why this project was important to him, why it was important to the company, and how he was counting on us to get it done. I was so inspired, I was ready to run through brick walls to get things done. Although this happened over 10 years ago, I still get goosebumps thinking about it.
At Column5, Organizational Change Management (OCM) is embedded into our PMO methodology. The PMO sees that one of our key success factors on any EPM program or BPC project is to identify all the key stakeholders, recruit Executive Sponsors, and work with them to demonstrate visible support.