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Governance and support in the sponsoring of projects and programs



Several factors have combined to draw attention to the importance of sponsoring projects and programs. One factor is that after several decades of attempting to improve success rates of projects by focusing on project-based management and the project management competence of practitioners, convincing evidence demonstrates that success or failure of projects is not entirely within the control of the project manager and project team. Contextual issues are crucial in influencing the progress and outcomes of projects, and a key theme that has emerged is the importance of top management support. Another factor that has drawn attention to the sponsorship role is increased focus on corporate governance resulting from numerous high-profile corporate collapses, which have highlighted the need for accountability, transparency, and the ability to implement strategy. The sponsorship role provides the critical link between corporate and project governance and is important in ensuring that governance requirements are met and that support is provided to projects and programs. This article reports on research designed to address both formal and informal aspects of the sponsorship role and to provide guidance to organizations and professional organizations by defining the role and responsibilities of the sponsor within corporate and project governance frameworks and identifying the characteristics of effective performance of the sponsor role. First, the role of sponsorship in the governance context is introduced; this is followed by a review of the literature relating to the sponsorship role, including its treatment in project and general management literature and in standards. The research methodology was specifically designed to take a holistic view of the sponsorship role, by examining the role in its project/program and organizational context and ensuring inclusion of views and experiences of sponsors as well as those of project managers, team members, and other stakeholders. A qualitative approach was adopted, focusing on a small number of case-study organizations and projects/programs enabling researchers to gain a rich understanding of the environment in which the role of the sponsor is realized. Over 108 interviews relating to 36 projects/programs in nine organizations from five geographic regions (Australia, China, Europe, North America, and South Africa) were recorded, transcribed, and then coded by the five researchers involved in the study. A priori codes derived from five preliminary studies were used for primary coding of the data. As the transcripts were coded, the researchers reviewed the data for emergent themes that might suggest additional codes. Analysis of the literature and the extensive qualitative data led to the development of a conceptual model for making sense of the sponsor's role. This model reflects the differing perspectives that may exist at the interface of the act of governing the project, which requires that the project be looked at from the perspective of the parent organization (governance), and the act of providing top management support, which requires looking at the parent organization from the perspective of the project (support). Under differing circumstances, the sponsor may need to emphasize the provision of governance, or support, or both. Utilizing this conceptual model, secondary codes were created reflecting quotations pertaining to governance, support, and behaviors of sponsors. Review of quotations provided a rich illustration of the governance and support aspects of the sponsorship role and gave substance to effective behaviors, which led to the discovery of useful opportunities for connection with mainstream general management literature to further enhance understanding. The conceptual model has significant potential to provide organizations and sponsors with guidance in understanding and defining the effective contextual conduct of the sponsorship role.