Formal Sponsorships Are the Way to Go
At many organizations, enlisting an executive sponsor is a matter of having a conversation and gaining a verbal commitment. But some of the most successful sponsorships are much more formal affairs.
At Heartland Payment Systems, "we have a very defined project initiation process," says CTO Kris Herrin. "It asks who is the sponsor, what the cost savings are going to be, or what the revenue generated will be."
IT shares a list of the projects it has under way with all Heartland executives. It's a helpful practice, Herrin says, because it allows executives to make educated judgments about which initiatives are most important, rather than simply fighting for their own to be completed first. "They'll say they want something by Q3," Herrin says. "But when they see some other project, they may say, 'Yeah, that's more important; mine can wait.' That constructive conversation, when you understand what the other person is really trying to accomplish, is a key to getting things done."
At Matson, every large IT project comes with governing documents that name not only the executive sponsor, but a second-in-command business unit manager. Executive sponsors are given a written description of their responsibilities. And they -- just like IT team members -- earn financial incentives when projects succeed.
"It was an evolution here," says Matson CIO Peter Weis. "We found working together over time that our interests were aligned. One project, four or five years ago, we said, 'Let's try this where we use similar incentives for project deliverables.' And then over time it became a standard practice. Now it's part of the way we work."
Weis credits this approach for the ongoing success of Matson's executive sponsorship relationships, and of its IT projects themselves. "It's a part-time activity," he explains. "All the business executives on these projects already have full-time jobs. We're allocating millions of dollars for these projects. So formalizing the role and making it visible is important."
— Minda Zetlin