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What's the secret to getting and keeping executive sponsorship for an IT project?

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As Scott Francis writes in this blog, Leading from Below, executive sponsorship is key to pretty much every significant IT project.  So what is the secret to getting and keeping executive sponsorship for your IT project?

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  • Quickly delivering value. This is why when starting with BPM you should pick a simple process first. Get experience while delivering a quick win.

  • Setting steps that are achievable in a relatively short period of time; providing timelines as to what will be delivered and when and then delivering on or before time and within the agreed budget.

  • A strong business case with a crisp delivery plan.

  • Value indeed, by all means! I do not think this is a big secret either, but it certainly requires an honest effort and a service oriented attitude that goes beyond systems architecture…

  • Donuts. :-)

    All seriousness, I agree with Garth, John, and Soumadeep's responses. I would just add continous, incremental business value. It's like feeding pigeons (bad analogy?). Keep throwing them (and the business) pieces of bread rather than 1 big load at the end. :-)

  • 1) Speak in the executive's language (i.e., speak in business terms not technology)
    2) Focus on outcomes (benefits), not activities
    3) Develop credibility by delivering on promised outcomes
    4) Communicate a lot, but in appropriate manner

    Carter Lusher
    Research Fellow & Chief Analyst: Enterprise Applications Ecosystem


  • One word: Engagement.

    There are 2 levels if not more, but 2 definite ones:
    1. At the highest level of engagement, you give them the tools to actually become active contributors to the ever-changing requirements.

    2. Setup regular sessions in which you sit down with them and show them how far you got, ask for their feedback and incorporate it on the spot.

  • +1. Yup, it's called Agile, and it's all about visible, continuous delivery before the client's eyes.

  • Agree with Carter. Speak the language of the business and focus on outcomes. It helps when you deliver them too!

    I said as much in my recent post on 'The Language of Process' that IT is mostly guilty of technobabble (as I am often myself) but it is difficult to make benefits plausible and achieveable without explaining at all how.

    One of the most important assets in that communication is the use of a Business Architecture that provides the terminology and requries that the executives and management define clear objectives, targets and goals. Outcomes and skills are the other important aspects.


  • The only IT projects should by IT infrastructure projects.

    Everything else is a business project. To think about them as IT projects is flawed from the outset and should never get sponsorship

  • The term 'sponsorship' unfortunately comes with an "outside funds" connotation. The term Investment sounds much better since that's when it's almost automatic that it has to have an outcome or direct value associated to it with direct accountability. Rest is simple: Deliver value, do it quickly (and not at the end of a long dark tunnel) & keep delivering it continuously and incrementally - like most our friends already mentioned above.

    So, IT in that sense is not supposed to act like an isolated project machine begging for funds, but the driver for business value - engages directly and delivers value in business terms.

    • The question is how you use the word - sponsorship vs. investment, I agree with your assessment. But sponsor vs. investor as a person, has different connotations. The sponsor of a project is someone who works at your firm. The investor in a project is usually outside the chain of command entirely working for another corporation...

      Notice in my post I didn't reference whether the team was IT or not, per se. The point is - you can create the environment for executive sponsorship (investment) to happen by executing, documenting value, delivering value, and managing the organization. Sponsorship won't (typically) be handed to your project/program on a silver platter... :)

  • user-pic

    Executive sponsorship comes down to trust. The pressure to "don't just stand there, do something!" is huge in today's climate. More so than any time before? I don't necessarily subscribe to that. Process immaturity is process immaturity, whether it's a heyday in the market or not; there is always a burning platform. Positive results and an ability to quickly react to change is everything. Times like these just amplify that need. Start wherever you can that will generate real business value, quantify the amount of value, deliver quick and show you can do it repeatedly...You will have sponsorship.
    However with that said there's always those few executives out there who are so obtuse they wouldn't recognize value if Phil Mickelson got them to shoot 12 under par. Cest le vie.

  • 1. Understanding Business needs
    2. Speaking Business language: no technical terms mixed together with business terms
    3. Promising Value in relatively short time.
    4. Providing the promised Value as promised.

    After delievering the first project as described above, do not be surprised if you will recieve Business sponsorship for the next project.

  • Agree with everyone so far: Show me the money!

    One more element is needed, and often in short supply: passion. Demonstrate that you believe in this effort with every fiber of your being. Show that you are willing to move mountains to make this thing work.

  • Proof. Track record! Hard to argue with that especially in this age of data deluge. If appealing to common sense.

    But then again, as Joe M said, we can't discount passion and persistence. Works best adding a dash of creativity to stubbornness, too.

  • Its all about showing value to the business, and that means in terms of money.

    IT needs to talk the language of Business and to align itself with the business need, not the most efficient IT way (if that makes sense). In addition, an IT project needs to show real business value, real business benefit to gain sponsorship and to maintain it. If a project can do that, then sponsorship is easy.

    The problem though is sometimes illustrating the business value of a project, this is especially true with BPM type implementation, because measuring business value can be tricky and open to interpretation.

  • You all know I am a BPM guy - which I dont see as being IT projects (although technology has a role to play).

    Notice that most of these posts (which I agree with) all relate to business change programs ... and if we shift the question slightly in that direction (to talk about business change) then I would say the challenge is subtly different.

    It really becomes, how do you avoid having executives sign off on a project and then think they have outsourced it to IT.

    The key challenge becomes one of engaging executives and persuading them to actually lead the charge (rather than merely sponsoring).

    It's one thing to sign up the company's money and resources; but it's quite another to get them to give up time, to make the initiative a regular item on steering group/governance board meetings, or to brief key team and business engagement meetings.

    • Derek, I think this is another variation on the same problem - in the one case, how do you get executives to *even* sign off... in the other case, how do you get them to realize that signing off on the project is just the beginning of their commitment, not the end...

  • Apologies for coming late to this thread ...

    Over the past year I have been executing Value Engineering efforts with my clients to address this very issue.

    Value Engineering is essentially about building the business case for executives but instead of focusing on ROI which is never an exact science it focuses on value. Where is the pent up value in the business that can be released?

    It is up to the executives ultimately to determine if faster delivery times through automation or reducing costs or increased quality are the drivers and the outcomes they want. It is the Value Engineers job to to calculate how much value exists, where it is located and how to access it.

    But the secret sauce in Value Engineering is the constant engagement. Instead of "show up and throw up" delivery of the information the Value Engineer tracks the value release month-by-month or quarter-by-quarter. They do this to keep the execs informed of how closely the actual release of value maps to the predicted glide-slope and to offer feedback and ideas on how get back on track or to accelerate as needed.

    Once Value Engineering project becomes part of the DNA of an organization Executive engagement and support become easy to secure.

    To learn more about Value Engineering check my blog at BizTechFuturist.

  • Well I agree there is no such thing as an IT project. However assuming you mean a Business Improvement project:
    1. Spend time understanding the business case, the bigger picture architecture and portfolio.
    2. Educate all participants on their perspective responsibilities and required skills. Set expectations.
    3. Use Knowledge Discovery to fast track As-Is model development.
    4. Develop To-Be architecture models with baselined As-Is functionality.
    5. Deliver the architecture vision in baselined small components that are architected and designed to evolve continuously.
    6. Demonstrate continuous evolution.
    7. Repeat.

  • Gaining and maintaining executive sponsorship is a people problem, not a process problem, in most organizations.

    Usually you know if you have a favourable audience before the business case is submitted if you have done the groundwork to find the right stakeholders (formal and informal), understand their problems and fashion the right solution.

    In other words, you know should know the answer before you formally ask the question.

    I don't mean this comment in a negative, its-all-politics way.

    Rather, focusing on iterative development, quick wins and a good business case all help. But, people are going to make the decision. The formal approval processes should be designed to ensure that the best ideas get through but someone is always going to make the call. You can never lose sight of that fact.

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