How to Become a Sustainable Sponsor

This post focuses on the critical importance of an engaged and competent sustainable sponsor to empower and facilitate the success of the change delivery team in delivering the benefits expected from the investment in a sustainable manner. Recent initiatives have helped organizations to fulfill this requirement for sustainable sponsors. This is part of a series to help raise awareness of sustainable change delivery.

A quote by Andrew Bragg, a CEO of APM, recently caught my attention:

“No such thing as failed projects, only failed governance.”

Exhibit 1 provides some of the commonly-referenced lists for causes of project failures, all of which reference sponsorship near the top. One of the key success factors for change initiatives is successful sustainable sponsors. Unfortunately, though, sustainable sponsors have not received the same attention and investment as project, programme and portfolio management standards and training.

Exhibit 1: Causes of Project Failure

The recognition of the importance and priority of sponsorship is highlighted in the table above in bold purple.  Some innovative leaders have dealt with this opportunity, but they represent the exception rather than the rule. Two initiatives comprise the UK Government’s Major Projects Authority and the GAPPS new Project Sponsor Standard. The GPM Global Sustainable Sponsor Program was designed to facilitate understanding of sponsorship and organizational sustainable change delivery.

My bias on this topic is based on either participating in change delivery initiatives as the project / programme manager, reviewing projects or programmes as portfolio manager, or assessing countless change delivery engagements where the sponsor either had no idea what they were expected to do or what they had signed up for.

The UK Government’s Major Projects Authority (MPA)

The investments, leadership and results emanating from the UK Government’s Major Projects Authority (MPA) have been impressive. The following three initiatives outlined below provide examples of this leadership, which incorporates the integrated investments in portfolio management, and identifies key measurable and reportable decision support metrics and sponsorship training.

1. Major Projects Authority Annual Report

The Major Projects Authority Annual Report 2014-15 demonstrates significant transparency and leadership in Federal Government Portfolio management with regard to change delivery.

Exhibit 2 provides a summary of the size, context and nature of the MPA Portfolio:

Exhibit 2: UK MPA Portfolio of Projects (UK Cabinet Office Major Projects Authority, p. 5, 2015)

Exhibit 3 illustrates the development of a culture of openness about the challenges facing major projects.  “The MPA uses the data from the GMPP to focus our efforts on the projects that are facing the most significant challenges, supporting projects to address and resolve these challenges” through the delivery confidence assessment (DCA).  “The DCA provides a summary of a project’s status, and is reported as a traffic light system ranging from green for the projects judged as being the most likely to succeed, to red for those projects facing the most serious challenges.”

Exhibit 3: UK MPA Delivery Confidence Assessment (DCA) Ranking over Time (UK Cabinet Office Major Projects Authority, p. 15, 2015)

Exhibit 3 demonstrates the ongoing improvement in the UK Major Projects Authority delivery confidence assessment ranking over time, reducing the number of high risk red initiatives from 7 to 2, and improving the green initiatives from 7 to 19.  The UK MPA recognized the importance of identifying, communicating and dealing with challenged initiatives head on, as opposed to watermelon reporting… green on the outside and red on the inside.

Exhibit 4: Watermelon reporting

2. Major Projects Portfolio Data

The Government Major Projects Portfolio data from September 2014 provides the following type of project meta data that continues to exemplify federal government portfolio transparency:

Exhibit 5: Customized from the Government Major Projects Portfolio data, September 2014 (UK Cabinet Office Major Projects Authority – Government Major Projects Portfolio Data – September 2014, 2015)

3. Major Projects Leadership Academy (MPLA)

The UK Cabinet Office’s MPA collaborated with Oxford University’s Saïd Business School and Deloitte to establish the Major Projects Leadership Academy (MPLA). Their remit is to ensure that senior public servants “responsible for major projects are able to cope with the particular stresses and strains of leading a big project in the public sector; and it encourages agility against a backdrop of unfolding change in priorities, circumstances and political direction” (University of Oxford Saïd Business School, 2015). Specifically, the MPA established the MPLA to accomplish what some may consider the following audacious goals within government to (University of Oxford Saïd Business School, 2013)…

Transforming the implementation of Government policy through world-class delivery of major projects by:

  • Returning major project leadership capability to Whitehall
  • Developing project leaders to become world-class experts at successfully delivering major projects
  • Creating a cadre of world-class project leaders, formed into an expert support network
  • Elevating the status of project leadership professionalism in Central Government
  • Developing the abilities of Permanent Secretaries to a) develop a corporate environment that supports successful major project delivery, and b) improve the way in which their organizations optimize use of their valuable project leader resource.

Exhibit 6 highlights the four key competency domains that the Major Projects Leadership Academy (MPLA) focuses on:

Exhibit 6: MPLA Competency Framework (University of Oxford, p. 4, 2013)

Successful Outcomes

The MPA assessed 41 projects as either amber/red or red in 2013, a number of which had also been assessed as red or amber/red in 2012. A positive picture of progress evident this year across these 41 projects. Whilst eight left the GMPP, over half (21) improved their ratings; again, being open about the challenges along with the determined effort of the project teams to address those challenges has put these projects back on a firmer footing.

The MPLA outcomes include the fact that “just two years ago only a third of major projects were found to deliver on time and on budget, now this is nearly two thirds. The MPLA contributes to this improving picture by training project leaders to apply the right approaches, experience and review processes to maintain performance over time. It provides the capabilities and confidence for Senior Responsible Owners to intervene decisively at the earliest opportunity if such monitoring highlights shortfalls and the need for intervention.”


The Global Alliance for Project Performance Standards (GAPPS) Project Sponsor Standard

As mentioned previously, sponsors often have no idea what their roles and responsibilities are, or even what they signed up for. Surprisingly, those project sponsors received no clear direction on the performance capabilities required. GAPPS prepared A Guiding Framework for Project Sponsors to deal with this omission. As of the GAPPS Manchester Thought Leadership Forum in 2015, this standard is aligned with the MPLA.

“The framework contains 34 performance criteria within 10 elements and three major areas of responsibility in which project sponsors should be competent:

  1. taking accountability for the project;
  2. supporting the project manager; and,
  3. supporting the project.”

This is an excellent guide for organizations and sustainable sponsors to review to ensure that they understand the basic competencies required for project sponsors.  Exhibit 6 provides a summary of the GAPPS sponsor standard’s units, elements and performance criteria.

Exhibit 6: Summary of Units, Elements and Performance Criteria (GAPPS, p. 7, 2015)

The GPM Global Sustainable Sponsor Program

The GPM Sustainable Sponsor Certificate Program is conducted for several hours over one or two days. Its intent is to raise executives’ understanding of change delivery (projects, programmes), value / benefits / risk / asset / business case and portfolio management with a focus on sustainability.

Exhibit 7: GPM Sponsor Program training certificate

The course provides background reference material usable throughout the change initiatives life cycle and provides the prospective sustainable sponsors with the understanding to ask the right questions.

Exhibit 8: The intent of sustainable change delivery (©Copyright Peter Milsom 2015)


Sponsorship has been the poor cousin of change delivery for far too long. However, numerous sources of information and guidance are available to facilitate the efforts of organizations to improve the awareness and competency of their sustainable sponsors.  Organizations should evaluate how projects are sponsored, and how the sponsors are supported.  The references provided are a good starting point, specifically the GAPPS A Guiding Framework for Project Sponsors.  If you are looking for programs to raise awareness and competency in sponsorship a number of options are available, including the GPM Global Sustainable Sponsor Program.


Series Objectives

This series is all about raising awareness of sustainable change delivery and the integral elements, disciplines and competencies associated with it.  In the graphic below, each of these elements is identified in terms of their integration in empowering for sustainability.  These elements form the basis of the GPM® Global’s P5™ Standard for Sustainability in Project Management, the GPM® Global Training Programs, and the GPM® Global Portfolio, Program, & Project Sustainability Model (PSM3™) for organizational assessment.

Exhibit 9: Organizational Sustainable Change Delivery Elements & Disciplines / Competencies


Algar, J., Carver, S., & Johnson, B. (2014). Why projects fail?… PM Today, March.

Association for Project Management (APM) (2014). Sponsoring Change: A Guide to the Governance Aspects of Project Sponsorship.

Crawford, L., Cooke-Davies, T., Hobbs, B., Labuschagne, L., Remington, K., & Chen, P. (2008). Situational sponsorship of projects and programs: An empirical review. Pennsylvania, United States: Project Management Institute. ISBN: 978193389046.

Englund, Randall & Bucero, Alfonso (2006). Project Sponsorship: Achieving Management Commitment for Project Success. Jossey-Bass.

Office of Government Commerce (OGC) (2009). Directing Successful Projects with PRINCE2 2009. The Stationery Office.

The Global Alliance for Project Performance Standards (GAPPS) (2015). Project Sponsor Standard.

UK Cabinet Office Major Projects Authority. (2015). Major Projects Authority Annual Report 2014-15.

UK Cabinet Office Major Projects Authority. (2015). Government Major Projects Portfolio Data – September 2014.

University of Oxford Saïd Business School. (2015). Major Projects Leadership Academy. Retrieved September 22, 2015, from

University of Oxford (2013). Major Projects Leadership Academy (MPLA) Handbook.

Walia, A., & Langley, J. (2014). APM Presents – Welcome to Governance of Project Mgt -Project Management in Practice. Retrieved September 23, 2015, from

West, David (2012). Project Sponsorship. Ashgate Publishing.

Kloppenborg, T. J., & Tesch, D. (2015). How Executive Sponsors Influence Project Success. Retrieved October 8, 2015, from

Hughes, J. (2015). A Sponsor’s 12 “P’s” to deliver successful Strategic Execution. Retrieved October 8, 2015, from


Peter Milsom

Peter Milsom is an entrepreneurial advocate for sensible, sustainable change delivery practice. Peter has come to realize that sustainability is the perfect catalyst for Project / Programme / Portfolio / Risk / Value / Business Case and Benefits Management improvement. As an entrepreneurial methodologist Peter's unique value proposition is the vast array of tools and techniques that he brings to every engagement using the most cost effective and efficient methods based on the situation and tailored to meet your needs. This is based on his unique combination of experience and extensive training / certifications in change delivery, value / risk / benefits management business case, and business architecture.

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