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Project Sponsorship 101

Fail to plan and plan to fail, as the old adage says.  It seems that more often these days, however, planning is the enemy of agile. While much of modern software development does not adhere to traditional project management (especially over-planning), project sponsorship is one idea you should still use.

Project Sponsorship - a team of software developers in a meeting

Most automation requests sent to CoE’s are from either the folks doing the work to be automated (end-users) or the supervisors of those end-users.  Understandably these are the ones who receive the direct impact of automation.  They can spend more time on more critical tasks, work they enjoy, even allow them to leave work on-time instead of staying late.  

Finding opportunities and allocating expensive technical resources, however, are different skillsets entirely.  This is where project sponsors step in.

At, we recommend that each new request also comes with a Project Sponsor BEFORE it can be analyzed or prioritized.  

Project sponsors add value in the following ways:

They ensure requests are aligned with company strategy

We all wish we worked in a culture where leadership and the rest of the business were on the same page, but that’s not always the case.  If a company has a set strategy, ideally any automation request should be in support of that.  The sponsor is often the best person to connect bottom-up ideas with top-down direction.

They have formal authority to allocate resources

Companies can fund RPA projects in different ways.  Even if the requesting department does not formally fund each request themselves, it’s good to act as if they were.  In that case, only folks at a certain level have the authority to approve budget over a certain amount.  Making the decision to spend company resources on one project usually is at the expense of some other project as well.  Sponsors should have enough perspective to properly evaluate opportunity cost. (You can always split work streams by size, so smaller items require a lower sponsor).

They can vouch for the expected ROI

If a new request has expected hard savings such as increased revenue or cost avoidance, not every member of a team has adequate visibility to that.  If a request has soft savings like hours saved, someone with a larger perspective of the team goals should understand what the team will now accomplish with this freed-up time.  The goal is to avoid someone who does not have proper understanding of the ROI to vouch for it.

They can help realize the expected ROI

Oftentimes certain ROI cannot be realized without downstream actions.  If a team can reallocate resources more efficiently because of automation, who can formally enact the reallocation?  If a new process must be followed to reap the benefits of automation, who can manage and enforce that new change?  Sponsors have the formal change management authority.

They help mediate between end users and the automation team

If scope creep or lack of clear requirements become an issue, the sponsor is a terrific mediator to help negotiate a decision.  This is especially important if any of the original end users leave the team.  The sponsor can help tell the story of why the automation was created and the problem is meant to solve for them and their teams.

Follow these best practices for effective sponsorship:

Require sponsors to be at a certain level in the corporate hierarchy

For most companies, this could be Director or VP level.  Avoid too high of a level where the sponsor is too far removed or tough to track down when needed.  Again, find the level that is close enough to the day-to-day but with a broader perspective of company strategy.

If your sponsor leaves or moves to a new role, replace them ASAP

Halting progress if a sponsor leaves mid-development may be extreme, but if the automation is valuable enough to the business, it shouldn’t be hard to find a replacement.  If you cannot find a replacement, perhaps the automation is no longer a priority for the larger organization.  Remember, just because an automation project has started does not mean it must be finished.  Priorities change, people do too.

Leverage sponsors for prioritization 

Ideally your sponsors have a seat at the table for roadmap prioritization.  If they are unable to attend, ensure they send a proxy.  If your program has an automation council or steering committee, these are your ideal members.

Leverage them for storytelling

Happy sponsors can make the best lobbyists for your automation program.  Find 1 or 2 that you can lean-on when needed.  At the very least, create some artifacts or content about their experience that you can share with prospective stakeholders.  Video testimonials and direct quotes are extremely powerful.

Project sponsorship can certainly add an extra layer of complexity and overhead to your intake process, no question.  The value they provide, however, is easily worth the extra time.  They can be powerful allies to your automation program and your biggest assets.  So next time an automation request comes your way, please make sure to ask for that sponsor.


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