There's No Driving With a Dead Engine:  The Importance of Project Sponsorship


Have you ever been tasked with driving a project you’ve felt was going nowhere? Maybe you were a project manager or project owner, coordinating a team that was working on something you felt wasn’t gaining traction within the organization.

In a time when companies have competing priorities and multiple change efforts happening all at once, your project is like a race car on a crowded speedway. You may have the flashiest car, with parts designed to go fast, but if the engine doesn’t start, there’s no chance you’ll win a race even if you’re strong enough to push it forward.

So, what is that one thing you can equate to an engine for your project?

Leadership.

It’s the energy converter that creates force to power the different parts of your organization. Every project needs visible leadership that can communicate a clear vision to employees, advocate its value, and in turn, incite action from individuals within their direct realm of influence.

If this all sounds obvious, then why are project managers regularly bewildered by projects they don’t feel are progressing (when it’s apparent there have been roadblocks to involving leaders)? When reinforcing the importance of sponsorship during project proposals, I’ve been asked, “What’s the plan B if we don’t have a visible sponsor?” Other times, the phrase “grassroots effort” gets bounced around.

Simply put, without sponsorship, it’s clear that the project’s purpose and objectives have not been fully evaluated, and it’s a sign to reprioritize and determine if it’s worth pursuing in the first place. Not to sound trite – but thinking that a change project will somehow become “grassroots” without sponsorship is putting the cart before the horse.

I have two recent client examples of companies that have managed leadership in different ways during the implementation of our internal crowdsourced prediction markets:

  • At Company A, there is a highly engaged group of people across a large business unit using the prediction market technology to forecast competitive intel, new market discoveries, and other industry impacts. One main leader taps direct reports to be topic owners that formulate prediction market questions related to upcoming business events. That same leader signs all the emails that get distributed as reminders for people to make forecasts. The project team creates leadership updates featuring the crowdsourced insights prior to milestone meetings, so that the crowd has a “seat” at the table and informs on strategic initiatives.
  • At Company B, our client struggles to engage diverse groups to make forecasts. The project team sends out all communications and reminders. Leaders are sent updates monthly. Though information is traveling from the team horizontally and upward, there is no proof that information is being cascaded from the top down, with the exception of one monthly email that regional leaders send to their groups. The project team works in silo, waiting to involve leaders until they can prove that the project has a solid footing.

What is happening at Company B is not uncommon. Often, designated project teams wait until the last minute to get the attention of leaders when they think they can carry out a project according to plan and underestimate that getting employees to take action is hard! Perhaps, as project owners, we try not to overburden our leadership and think we’re doing right by them in taking initiative and attempting to demonstrate competence before engaging them. To all of this, you should be shaking your head. As Company A tells us, all you need is to work with one influential sponsor to put the wheels of your project in motion.

To ensure a project gets the visibility and sponsorship it needs for success, in the second part of this blog post (soon to come), I’ll outline a practical framework for creating an engaged leader network.

Until then, if you’re currently managing through a change that is lacking sponsorship and leader visibility, identify one valuable influencer. Schedule a meeting, and discuss his or her current business needs and priorities, and see how your project fits into this picture. (Re)Opening a dialogue is a step closer to working with your leader, and not simply reporting to them.


A TWO-PART SERIES: Part 1 

Vanessa Pineda is the Director of Professional Services at Cultivate Labs

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prediction markets change management leadership sponsorship project management

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