A perspective on PMI's Pulse of the Profession® 2015
BY PERRY KEENAN AND JENNIFER TANKERSLEY
Six years after the start of the financial crisis, we're seeing widespread recovery across multiple geographies and industries. Around the globe, most companies have become more efficient, and many have also become more effective - challenging and modifying their operating models, redefining their priorities, and restructuring accordingly.
In many instances, these changes are setting the stage for transformation on a greater scale, in which a company's adeptness at change itself bespeaks competitive advantage and becomes an integral part of its strategy. Change is more complex and more critical. Organizations have become increasingly global; technology has accelerated the rate and impact of change; the need is greater; and competition has clearly increased. The nature of the change demanded now will often be wrought by large-scale, strategic initiatives that have impact across the organization and beyond it.
To that end, having executive sponsorship for these initiatives - some of which, by their nature, are literally 'bet the business' plays - has taken on increasing importance. PMI research shows that 76 percent of respondents agree that the role of the executive sponsor has grown in importance over the past five years (Figure 1).
Figure 1: The role of the executive sponsor has grown in importance over the past five years
But top-quality sponsorship is frequently a painfully finite resource. Demand for executive sponsors is increasing, but the supply of capable executive sponsors is limited - and seemingly not sufficiently expanding to meet demand. Many organizations report that their sponsors are highly overextended in their portfolios, which logically leads to sub-optimal engagement, in turn negatively impacting project outcomes.
Whether sponsors are coming from the C-suite or further down in the organization, it is our experience that, all too often, there are too few of them and they are being asked to do too much (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Executive sponsors are in short supply and are frequently overextended across many projects
Another issue with supply is that an increasing mix of the initiatives being undertaken involve horizontal rather than vertical value, i.e. they are cross-business or functional initiatives rather than silo-based. With this increasing complexity and higher stakes come stronger requirements for visibility internally, and more recently, externally as well. The rising level of external scrutiny is a matter of increasing importance for some highly regulated industries, raising the already - great pressure around delivering project success.
Research undertaken by PMI shows the difference that highly engaged executive sponsors can make on project and program success. Sponsors know and understand their need to be engaged, but the growing need to understand, monitor and, as appropriate, intervene on critical aspects of complex implementation efforts runs up against the limits of their ability to do so - a source of frustration for all involved.
In working with clients, the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) has found that project or program management offices (PMOs) can play a critical role by implementing smart and simple processes focused on critical operational insight and by helping both project managers and sponsors develop the appropriate skills for their roles. For project managers, this would include learning how to rigorously define their initiative in terms of critical milestones that will have operational or economic impact, forward-looking lead indicators, and metrics on critical risks and interdependencies, as well as when and how to most effectively engage sponsors. For sponsors, the focus would be on effective leadership of change, engaging and influencing key stakeholders, and proactive issue resolution - specifically, forward-looking course correction.
These relatively simple but effective changes help enable sponsors to focus on those areas where they have the greatest impact on project and program success: removing roadblocks, resolving issues, aligning with strategy, championing projects, working with key stakeholders, and course correcting where needed.
With higher stakes on the table internally and externally, organizations can benefit enormously from the research undertaken by the PMI around engaged, effective executive sponsorship. Click here to read the report.
(Perry Keenan is a senior partner and managing director at BCG, and the global topic leader for change management and program management. Jennifer Tankersley is a topic expert in change management at BCG.)