How to Get a Business Sponsor to Back IT Initiatives

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Top 10 Project Management Trends for 2011

If there was a list of 10 Commandments for Technology Initiatives, one of the commandments that would be at or near the top of the list would be "Get a good executive sponsor." I've written about the importance of a highly involved executive sponsor several times, including this post on how it helped TNG Worldwide complete a successful implementation of an ERP system in eight months.


I also liked Deloitte Principal Bill Allison's statement about sponsors when I interviewed him about ERP in March, He said:

Getting your top-level executives and their direct reports into the boat with you is the difference between success and failure. We don't see big problems with technology so often anymore. But we do see implementations that become rudderless. The reason they become rudderless is the organizational pressures people are confronted with exceed the leverage they have. If you can get that leverage from the top, that situation never occurs. It's intuitively obvious, but it can be difficult to execute.

And it isn't just ERP. IT Business Edge's Loraine Lawson kicked off her recent post on launching an MDM program by noting that "ideally, a master data management program will start with executive sponsorship and business buy-in." The "ideally" was the key, with Loraine going on to offer a few suggestions for what to do if IT organizations had trouble recruiting business sponsors. The advice boiled down to illustrating the value of the proposed initiative, either by launching a simple pilot to show how it could improve the business or, in one interesting case, by making folks more aware of the "pain points" that could be removed.


I suspect the lack of upfront executive sponsorship is not all that uncommon in technology projects, despite all of the advice to get one. And it's understandable given the busy schedules and already full to-do lists of many executives. Given this, I thought I'd pass along some other good tips I've seen recently on getting and keeping a sponsor.


Rick Swanborg, president of ICEX, suggests getting sponsors to put some financial skin in the game. In a column published on PCWorld, he advises telling business leaders that any benefits of IT projects, including cost savings or increased revenues, will appear in their future budgets. This serves two purposes. It discourages sponsors from inflating their estimates of an investment's potential value and it also helps keep them more engaged over the life of a project. He writes:

... They'll be sure to make the organizational and process changes required to realize the estimated benefits-and exploit those investments even further.

The finance department obviously must cooperate with this strategy. And Swanborg cautions it won't really work when introducing new technologies for which not all of the benefits are known. But it seems like a real winner for process improvement efforts or investments that will clearly yield revenues. The entire column is worth a read, as it contains several other good project management tips.


I also like the advice dispensed by BP3 Co-founder and CTO Scott Francis on his blog. He suggests identifying which executives are likely to be good sponsors. Then "think about what matters to them, what their objectives are, what the company objectives are over which they have influence. And make sure you have good arguments to support your BPM initiative along those lines." (He's writing about business process management, but this tip should work for any technology initiative. It's all about making the initiative personally important to potential sponsors.) He concludes:

If you do it right, it will almost feel like the realization of that executive's ideas, rather than some "not-invented-here" idea that has to be thrust upon upper management.

Some other good ideas are included in an eBizQ discussion based on Francis' post. Among them:

  • Create goals that can be attained in a short time frame.
  • Demonstrate clear incremental value.
  • Focus on outcomes rather than activities.
  • Update sponsors frequently on progress.
  • Solicit sponsors' feedback and make sure it is incorporated.