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5 Ways to Stop Sponsor Decision Delays

Sponsors are the most common cause of delays to IT projects, so it's worth investing time to help them be more effective

IT project managers who are responsible for the keeping large and often eye-wateringly expensive corporate technology projects on track and on budget, say that the most common cause of delay – and so spiralling costs – come from decisions by the project sponsor.

Project sponsors typically work on or have responsibilities for whatever bit of the business the IT project is designed to help with. They may be well placed, therefore, to ensure the company gets what it wants from the technology but they may also be more interested in making sure the project is tweaked until it is perfect than they are to get it done on time.

IT project managers can often feel that these delays from sponsors are inevitable but a good sponsor training program has been shown to improve their decision making. Unfortunately, only 26% of sponsors say they receive training that adequately prepares them for their sponsorship responsibilities.

Five Steps

Some of the more forward thinking IT project management offices (PMOs) in CEB’s client networks have found that building a training program specifically aimed at project sponsors will improve sponsor turnout at training sessions and make them better in the role. This can be achieved with five simple steps.

  1. Find a sponsors’ sponsor: Although it may sound like the start of a riddle, a sponsor training program will actually benefit from having its own sponsor. This person’s responsibilities are to promote the sponsor training program with others who sponsor projects (the “sponsor community”), and communicate the benefits of sponsorship in general.

    The sponsor of the training program should be someone who has shown a commitment to engaged project sponsorship, possesses leadership and communication skills, and is respected by their peers.

  2. Design Training from the sponsors’ perspective: Sponsor training is most effective when the PMO designs it with the needs of sponsors in mind. Work closely with your sponsor community to understand where potential sponsors feel they need the most help, and design the training accordingly.

  3. Make the training interactive: Sponsors are busy people, so it’s important to make these training sessions as useful as possible to respect their time.

    Traditionally, PMOs rely on classroom training sessions and e-learning courses, but CEB data show that interactive workshops are the most effective form of sponsor training. Workshops should include scenarios that allow sponsors to work through real-world problems in small groups.

  4. Provide continuous support: Sponsors are often left with little or no support after their initial training is complete, and have little opportunity to connect with other sponsors.

    Provide sponsors with access to an internal resource center that includes tools, templates (such as RACI charts), and a discussion forum that sponsors can use to ask questions and share lessons learned.

  5. Seek ongoing feedback on the support you provide: Once you’ve launched your sponsor training program, don’t become complacent.

    Deploy surveys at the end of each training session to understand what your sponsors think was useful, and what wasn’t. The PMO should also track sponsor engagement to see if the training program has resulted in better engagement from sponsors.

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