The Program Steering Group are the key stakeholders of any program, and are responsible for approving program investment decisions and also for defining the direction of the business and the program. Without the involvement of senior people within the organisation the program is unlikely to progress very far.
At the head of the program steering group sits the Program Sponsor (sometimes also called the Senior Responsible Owner). This person is ultimately responsible for ensuring the program meets its objectives and realises its expected outcomes and benefits. It is important that this person has enough power to lead the direction of the program and the program team, and to take on accountability for the program.
You should think of the Program Sponsor as the program’s “champion” – it is they who must own the vision for the program, secure any investment needed, and provide clear leadership and direction throughout the life of the program.
As a program manager, for your program to be a success it is desirable that the Program Sponsor has personal accountability for the outcome of the program. In practice, this typically means that the outcome of the program should form a significant part of their personal performance targets. It is worth spending some time ensuring this is or will be the case at the start of the program, before you take on the role of Program Manager for the program, as having this in place will make it much more likely the Program Sponsor will help you to resolve program issues quickly. After all, your problem will be their problem.
In addition to the points highlighted above, the Program Sponsor also has the following responsibilities:
- Accountability for the program’s governance arrangements
- To continuously ensure that the program is aligned with the strategic objectives of the business. Businesses evolve, and as such, issues will pop up from time to time which affect the alignment of the program with the business, and it is the Program Sponsor who is responsible for ensuring these issues are appropriately resolved.
- Ultimately approving or rejecting the milestones of the program
- Chairing program milestone review meetings
- Managing the interface and communication with the key senior stakeholders, such as the executive board, if these people are not already part of the program steering group.
It is unlikely that the Program Sponsor will be involved in the day-to-day activities of the program, but to reiterate, they must be personally responsible for the program, proactive, and clearly visible within the organisation as the driving force for the program.