The PMO Supporting Sponsors

The Sponsor (programme or project) is a key player in programme and project delivery, but many PMOs still aim their services at the Programme and Project Managers.

Why is that? Is the PMO missing a vital customer – arguably one of the most important roles in the whole delivery chain?

During this session, we took a look at some of the reasons why this is and how to overcome them.

We considered the key value-added services that can be offered by the PMO for the benefits of the sponsor – and what’s needed by the PMO team in terms of skills and experience to support that.

This session is a good one for anyone working in a PMO which offers services to the business – whether that’s at project, programme or portfolio – and for PMO practitioners looking to up their value by working with and supporting senior management.

The session was delivered by Eileen Roden – she’s also delivering the PMO Learning Project Sponsorship and the PMO course so you’ll gain some great insights. (If you’re interested in the course, use the code #pmof-sponsor to get an extra 10% off.)


The Video Session


The Deck

The Sponsor and the PMO

If we understand what the problems are, we can then address those problems

The Insights

Common Causes of Project Failure

If we look at some of the common causes of project failure, taken from the National Audit Office, these are the ones which impact the project sponsor:

  1. Lack of a clear link between the project and the organisation’s key strategic priorities
  2. Lack of clear senior management ownership and leadership
  3. Lack of effective engagement with stakeholders
  4. Lack of skills and proven approach to project management and risk management

These are all key roles for the sponsor – so the question straightaway is – how can the PMO provide them with the support to overcome these?

When we asked the PMO Flashmobbers to tell us Which of the common causes of project failure does your organisation suffer from? Overwhelmingly it was:

Lack of clear senior management ownership and leadership at 67%

What Happens When the Sponsor Has Too Many Projects to Sponsor?

A great question that came up – and something that resonated with a lot of the PMO Flashmobbers.

Delegation of authority rules in a business has a BIG impact

The discussion was all around levels of authority – and how low could some authority be for some of the projects in the business. For example, another manager with less authority could be given smaller and non-strategic projects to sponsor. This would free up more senior managers for the more risky and strategic projects to sponsor – whilst giving another, newer manager, experience in project sponsorship and be ready for larger projects in the future.

Linking Project Success to Sponsors

On the flip side of failures, we can look at the successes to understand more about what is linked to the role of the sponsor.

Using the APM’s Conditions for Project Success report – we looked at the starred parts below:

We asked the question, “which of the conditions for project success are fully embedded within your organisation?”

65% answered, “secure funding” – the rest of the options were all less than 30%.

Do Sponsors Understand Their Role?

For a lot of the PMO Flashmobbers on the session, the role of the sponsor within their organisations is not clearly understood. In the Prosci poll (to the right) the results reflect a lot of reality today.

With the PMO Flashmobbers, 36% polled that the sponsors in their organisation know their role adequately with 32% saying slightly.

There’s definitely work to be done.

The Learnings

There is definitely a need to provide more support to the sponsors within the organisation. For many different reasons, there will be challenges to doing this. Fear and saving face/credibility are just two of the biggest obstacles for sponsors to overcome in reaching out for help – so if they’re not coming to us (or anyone else) what could the PMO do?

We talked about getting back to first principles – with a clear definition of the role of the sponsor needed first of all. If it’s not there, the PMO can start asking the questions about getting that in place.

From a PMO services point of view – looking at the different services the PMO offers and which are most likely to support the sponsor role. For the session, we looked at three different services. Thinking about your PMO for the moment, which services do you think would be beneficial for your sponsors?

From the interactive session, there were loads of insights into defining a service the PMO could deliver to improve sponsor performance in their organisations plus challenges to implementing the services. Here’s ten of the best:

  1. “Nudging” – can the PMO provide some non-coercive influence when it comes to supporting and guiding sponsors, making suggestions, by being the exemplar, constructive challenge?
  2. Confidential advice service – either internally or externally, just somewhere for sponsors to get the help and guidance they need without the fear or loss of credibility?
  3. Probing questions – additional parts of the reports the PMO provides to senior executives which feature probing questions; areas to focus on to challenge; PMO advice by stealth or nudging again?
  4. Crib sheets, checklists, playbooks – call them what you want but provide the educational stuff to get them thinking about their sponsor role more deeply and being able to pick up the different elements of what’s required.
  5. Look at the carrot and stick of services that could be offered – the ones around control (the stick) or the ones around rewards (the carrot) – find the balance and use different approaches to see which works within the culture.
  6. Notes on stages – rather than creating a big guide of the how-to for sponsors, consider notes by each stage of the project – just tell them what needs to happen NOW
  7. Behavioural workshops – organised by the PMO but not run by them – this is probably an external facilitator to start addressing the culture of why sponsorship is not working within the organisation.
  8. Creating the environment for a peer community – let sponsors get together in private, let them discuss the challenges with peers. The PMO can organise the set up and retreat – they can also organise different sessions to be facilitated based on current organisational and project challenges.
  9. Bring in the emotional intelligence – understanding what really keeps a sponsor awake at night – we’re back to, “if we understand the problem, we can work out how we can help”
  10. Guide sponsors to focus on the content of the information they’re receiving – not the process, and concentrate on the exceptions – the PMO can help with any technical parts and busting the jargon used on reports.

A Takeaway

This handy PDF might be useful when starting to develop more robust support for sponsors. It’s 15 questions that enable us to understand the sponsor’s commitment to the role of sponsor – an evaluation.

It can be developed into an assessment by creating a sliding scale (1-10) from the positive to the negative. Perhaps this could be added to your own PMO or your personal toolkit.


Sponsor Commitment


Next Steps

Take a look at the one day course from PMO Learning – designed to help PMO professionals support sponsors more effectively:

PMO Supporting Sponsors

More About Eileen

Eileen works with Boards, Executives, Sponsors, Project Managers, Project Teams and PMOs to improve their programme and project delivery capability. Her approach ensures that a pragmatic approach is taken to programme and project delivery, grounded in research and best practice, tailored to suit the culture and maturity of the organisation. She works across a wide range of industry sectors including transport, defence, financial services, pharmaceuticals, defence, utilities and the public sector.


Eileen has 15 years practitioner experience in a variety of project management roles (predominantly PMO management) along with IT and functional HR roles, with a variety of UK, EMEA and global responsibilities. Her practical experience is supported by both academic and professional certifications including a Masters in Applied Project Management (with distinction), AIPMO-E, PRINCE2®, MSP®, MoP®, Managing Benefits®, Better Business Cases®, Programme and Project Sponsorship®.  She is now a Consulting Director of PMO Learning, AIPMO’s UK partner.


She is the Author of P3O® Best Management Practice and co-author of AIPMO’s PMO Principles, Knowledge Management in a Project Environment, along with contribution to many APM publications.  She is a frequent conference speaker throughout UK and Europe.


About Lindsay Scott

Lindsay is the founder of PMO Flashmob and a Director at PMO Learning - the sister company to PMO Flashmob and the best training company for PMO people in the world! She's also the creator of London's first dedicated PMO Conference; Director of Arras People and PMO enthusiast. Loves dogs and gin.

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