Sponsors are really critical to the success of any project. They’re the ones who rally the rest of the leadership behind the project so there aren’t tons of obstacles in the path to success.
So what happens when the sponsor leaves the company while the project is in progress? Does the project just die?
It’s a tough question to answer and depends on different variables.
As a project manager, one of the primary things you can do is plan for the best and prepare for the worst. That means, during the initial stages of the project, activities need to be in place to get as many people in leadership positions on board.
It’s essential to ensure a broad communication plan for the project spans all the critical leaders to bring as many of them as possible into a position of strong support from an organizational perspective. This also includes building relationships with all key stakeholders and tapping into what their concerns and priorities are about the project. It won’t be a one and done effort.
Consistent action is necessary to make sure it’s a success.
Let’s talk about some of the variables you need to consider when deciding on next steps for the project when the sponsor is leaving.
What’s the timing?
If the sponsor leaves abruptly, there’s not a lot of planning that can go into finding a replacement. But in cases where the sponsor will be available for some time after an announcement that they’re leaving, it gives you some time to tidy things up and (hopefully) get another sponsor in place to make the transition seamless.
Either way, identifying who might be the next best candidate and bringing that person on board will be critical for the project. If it takes a long time to regain sponsorship, it could cause the project to fail due to disinterest. Time will be of the essence in getting a new sponsor in place.
What’s the project stage?
A sponsor leaving is more of a crisis for a project that’s in the initiation stage than one in the later execution stage. It’s unlikely that a project getting close to completion would be impacted in a major way when a sponsor leaves. It’s still important to make sure there’s a sponsor because someone needs to take the leadership reigns for the transition to day to day business operations.
If the project is just starting out, consider the timeline. What’s coming up that needs strong sponsor support to move things forward? If it’s something big, it might be better to either stop the project or slow things to a crawl until decisions can be made about continuing. On the other hand, if there are a series of small steps to be taken, it won’t hurt to continue slowly until a new sponsor is determined.
It’s important to remember that stopping the project could mean it will never happen. You’ll lose momentum and could lose resources. And that’s a sure sign of a dead project.
It’s not necessarily bad news
Changing sponsors in mid-stream isn’t always a bad thing. It could be one of the best things to happen to your project, particularly if the previous sponsor was a challenge. Before making a negative judgment about the change, consider both the pros and cons.