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Sponsorship During and Beyond Project Life

Without a sponsor who values the outcome of a project and is willing to take on the challenge of motivating the organization to support the effort, the project will fail.

Without a transfer of the responsibility to sustain sponsorship and manage ongoing operations from the project manager to a process or product manager, benefits will not be realized, and the project will be deemed a failure even though it might have delivered the product on time and within budget.

The Project

Take for example a project to enable a buying cooperative to consolidate and mine data from its member organizations, each of which has its own procurement and inventory systems. This is a case of gaining an enterprise-wide view of data across relatively autonomous organization units with different application systems. In other words, collect data from several sources that have different identifiers and formats and use it to gain insights into trends, performance and preferences.

The technical solution to this problem is relatively sstraightforward the Extract, Transform, Load (ETL) approach. In this approach, the project establishes a common taxonomy and format, creates applications to extract data from source systems and transform the incoming data to the common identifiers and format. For example, each source has a different way of identifying its vendors. The transformation would rely on a translation table with each source vendor identifier paired with a common identifier and on descriptions of the incoming data format and mapping it to a common format. In addition, the project defines and initiates the process that will be put in place to keep the data transformation rules up to date and make sure that the data is regularly transferred according to the process rules.

Critical Needs

In our coop, the executives at the member organizations want the end result – comprehensive data in a central place to be used for business intelligence and decision support. The project is kicked off. A project manager is appointed and given direct access to the executives and a high degree of authority within the development team. Since each member organization has its own IT function, the project Manager does not have authority to direct them.

There were the following critical project objectives:

  1. Develop the system to collect the data, transform it and place it in a data base,
  2. Implement a database centered information system accessible by the members and the coop’s data analysts
  3. Each source organization to provide initial mapping and transformation information
  4. Define an ongoing operational process with a central administrator or process manager to make sure that the data is collected in a timely manner and the transformation data is kept up to date.

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In projects of this kind, the technology solution is not the problem, as long as the architecture requires minimal change at local levels. If, on the other hand, the solution requires that each feeding system make changes to accommodate the need for centralized data, the project becomes more complex and there is greater risk of failure as local IT groups wrestle with competing demands on resources. Unless the sponsor is very strong, there is little motivation at local levels to prioritize projects like this.

Beyond the completion of the project, there is the ongoing process to keep the meta data (the transformation rules, and formats) and the actual data up to date. This is the tricky part that requires sustained sponsorship. it is tricky because there is a need at the coop level to have responsible staff to monitor and administer the ETL process and at the local level to have each member organization follow a process to ensure that its data and mapping are kept up to date.

Motivating the Sponsor(s)

The most critical objective is sustaining the operational system and process. Things change as new vendors come on aboard, old ones leave or change, local systems are modified. he system means enabling, motivating and monitoring performance. Since projects must have a finite completion, the ongoing process is not part of the project. It is turned over to an operational group. The project manager must make sure, as part of the project, a process manager is appointed, who keeps the sponsor(s) motivated for the life of the process. The process will be ongoing for many years. The process manager must have access to the executive sponsors and take oin the role of continuously improving the product and making sure it is used effectively.

If the sponsorship is strong, the ongoing operational process will be funded, staffed and made an integral part of the business process. Otherwise, the data will become stale and ultimately go unused – or worse be inaccurate and used. A strong sponsor is one that has the authority to get the people involved to do their parts in both the project and the ongoing process. In our example, there is no single strong sponsor. The executive in charge of the coop is the sponsor, but has little or no authority when it comes to getting the members to do their parts. In a different type of enterprise – one in which there is a hierarchy leading up to a CEO with overall authority – the authoritative sponsor is available but sustaining interest may be a problem. Also, since there is often a structure in which division heads have autonomy and the CEO steps back from operations the use oif the sponsors authority may be difficult.

In projects, sponsors are motivated by, first, the idea and promise of valuable benefits and then by the realization of the benefits. In our case, if the information received by the coop members is deemed valuable, the local leadership will make sure that their part of the operation is properly performed. On the other hand, if the information is not valued at the local level there is little to motivate due diligence in the operation, even if there are clear SLAs and procedures.

The project manager must be a salesperson who sells and keeps selling for the life of the project and makes it clear to the sponsor(s) that unless there is sustained funding and due diligence performance of the ongoing process the desired benefits will not be realized. The same is true for the process manager. He or she must keep the pressure on through the sponsor(s) to motivate sustained operational performance. In the context of our example, he or she does this by regularly monitoring operational performance and the actual use of the consolidated information – dash boards, inquiries and reports.

In other situations – whether they involve the creation of a new product or the implementation of a new process, a project objective must be to transfer the role of the project manager to an operational team headed by a leader acting as product or process manager, making sure that sponsorship remains strong by keeping the benefits coming.

George Pitagorsky

George Pitagorsky, integrates core disciplines and applies people centric systems and process thinking to achieve sustainable optimal performance. He is a coach, teacher and consultant. George authored The Zen Approach to Project Management, Managing Conflict and Managing Expectations and IIL’s PM Fundamentals™. He taught meditation at NY Insight Meditation Center for twenty-plus years and created the Conscious Living/Conscious Working and Wisdom in Relationships courses. Until recently, he worked as a CIO at the NYC Department of Education.

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