Software vendors and consultants have boiler plate implementation-team org charts with a box at the top labeled “Executive Sponsor.” It's the role with the greatest potential to make or break a construction firm's software implementation, but far too many contractors undervalue the executive sponsor position and fail to understand its significance.
The executive sponsor on an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system implementation serves as liaison between the ERP steering committee – those who selected the new system – and the project team – those charged with integrating the software with the firm's business. "Liaison" may be an understatement.
The steering committee didn't simply select new software, they created a vision of how technology should help make the company more successful. The executive sponsor's job is to ensure the ERP system helps deliver that vision.
Implementations are complex; they touch nearly every aspect of the operation. There is no single right answer to many questions, but some workable answers can diverge from the steering committee's vision. One of the best ways to ensure that the way your firm ends up using the software matches your technology vision is to staff the implementation properly.
In my experience, the executive sponsor is typically someone at or near C-level management nominated by the firm’s executive team or ERP steering committee. Implementations can proceed without their guidance. Some will fail as a result. Others will be called "successes" in spite of poor direction. An implementation properly sponsored seldom stretches the definition of success.
Migrating from a legacy system to a new ERP is no trivial task. There are good reasons firms do not do this every day, every year, even every decade – it is expensive, it is time consuming, it is challenging, and it can be transformational. The team assembled to implement the system should not be made up of spare parts and random odds and ends.
The best candidates
Understanding what an executive sponsor must be able to do makes the list of candidates very short.
It's not a full time job and, thankfully, not a permanent one. The project manager devotes 100% of his or her time to the implementation. The executive sponsor takes more of a guidance, and (strong) advisory role.
It's no walk in the park, though. The executive sponsor will likely put in some extra time, particularly if there isn't any help with his or her day job.
Consultants' forms say the duties of the executive sponsor include:
- Liaison between management and the ERP team as well as external resources
- Project manager's sounding board for issue resolution
- Ensure internal resources are made available
- Assist in developing project budgets and approval of change requests
- Participate in project-level meetings
- Assist in conflict resolution
Here's a little more about what each of these really means:
Liaison between internal management and the ERP team and external resources. The executive sponsor needs to be someone the CEO, president, other officers, the board, the implementation team, and company employees respect and listen to. The sponsor should have no problems communicating with confidence at any level. It is not uncommon to see the CEO, president, CFO or other top company executive actually take on the executive sponsor role.
Project manager's sounding board for issue resolution. The executive sponsor must understand the organization's current state, and as a member of the ERP/technology steering committee, also understand its desired future state. The project manager must be able to discuss issues with the executive sponsor without first explaining the entire concept. The project manager must have confidence in the executive sponsor’s knowledge, ability, and authority.
Ensure internal resources are made available. When it is time to marshal resources (internal, external, funding, etc.), the executive sponsor must have the authority and political connections to make it happen.