What’s one of the keys to ensuring the success of business-technology projects, like SAP implementations? An executive sponsor with the right skills and pre-defined responsibilities, according to research from The Standish Group, which has been analyzing IT projects since 1985.
“We believe improvement in the skills of the executive sponsor is the single most important factor that will increase project success,” writes the Standish Group’s Jennifer Lynch, in a blog post publicizing the firm’s CHAOS Manifesto report (subscription required to read the report) and its “50 secrets to being a good executive sponsor.”
The CHAOS report’s latest findings offer a bit of good news—a “major increase in project success rates.” However, Lynch notes that 66 percent of executive sponsors “do a poor job and shirk their responsibilities,” according to Standish Group research. She doesn’t necessarily blame the sponsors themselves, though. “It is not their fault,” she writes, “because no one has educated them about their roles and responsibilities.”
Therefore, Lynch advises that companies need to first precisely define the role of the executive sponsor, since the term can mean different things to different parties—which then can help delineate where the sponsor’s responsibilities start and stop. In the post, she also examines how much effect the name given to the sponsor can have on the project. Lynch writes:
In many of the agile methodologies the word “owner” or “product owner” is used in place of or in conjunction with executive sponsor. The words “owner,” “customer,” or “captain” might be more appropriate. In the Project Management Institute’s book Situational Sponsorship of Projects and Programs: An Empirical Review, the authors suggest dropping “executive” and just using “sponsor.” The rationale is that the sponsor does not need to be an executive. While this is true, it makes the problem worse. The sponsor may not be an executive of the organization, but he or she is the chief executive of the project. The word “executive” symbolizes a higher level of responsibility than just “sponsor.” The executive sponsor, for better or worse, owns the outcome.
Lynch is very clear in that respect—that the executive sponsor must own the project. “As owner of the project, the full weight and responsibilities of its success or failure fall squarely on his or her shoulders,” she writes. “There can be no distance between the project resolution and the sponsor.”
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