Whether you are conducting a Strategic Sourcing initiative internally, engaging your supply chain vendors for a multi-level process-restructuring overhaul or hiring help from the outside consulting world, the first step of the process is often the most critical……building the proper project team.

Our series of posts “Building your Strategic Sourcing Project Team” aims to help you select the right team for the job. Part one of this post focuses on building proper project sponsorship.

The first step in your team building phase is perhaps the most critical, selecting the right project sponsor(s). A strong project sponsor is not only responsible for the selection of the right team for the initiative, but must also gain all internal and external support throughout the entire organization and supply chain.

A project sponsor does not necessarily need to be an upper-level manager or executive, but must have the full support of the entire management team. The most effective project sponsor is typically an individual that has been hand selected by the entire management team for their knowledge of all company processes and their ability to overcome internal roadblocks.

An individual that has been tasked with the strategic sourcing initiative in a single department, who must then go and attempt to gain support from other departments and business units, typically will not have the ability to make decisions and implement the changes that are often required for a successful cost savings event.

Most strategic sourcing initiatives will cross borders into many different departments, which makes it critical to have the entire organization aware and in support of the initiative. A project sponsor must be able to involve and communicate with all departments within the organization to ensure proper support throughout the company.

Without total support and awareness throughout the organization, it is not uncommon for an initiative to fail at the last hour:
• Take for example, a packaging department’s strategic sourcing initiative that has decided to standardize on corrugated materials. They go through the process of identifying the proper industry standards, qualifying and bidding the spend area, and testing the new boxes. Before implementation of savings begins, they find out that their marketing department specifically uses the existing packaging as the part of their corporate branding, or their largest customer requires the old packaging style and the entire project is ended or delayed.
• Or, take the marketing department that decides to focus on their online spending for website promotion. They evaluate different suppliers and tactics that can be used to help reduce spend, and begin the selection process. Close to the end of the initiative they decide to involve to IT department, which informs them that they have already been working on a new website and search engine optimization plan, which directly conflicts with the work that marketing has been conducting.
• Or, the Information Technology department that specifies a new VOIP phone system and the infrastructure to support it. They involve purchasing in the final hours to procure the systems, unaware of any existing supplier agreements or carrier contract termination penalties that may cost the organization tens of thousands of dollars.

These are just a few examples, it would be impossible to list them all. In our Strategic Sourcing consulting roles, Source One has heard many horror stories of wasted time, money and resources because of the lack of information sharing between different levels in an organization. The project sponsor will ensure that critical initiatives are communicated to everyone in the organization to ensure that events like this do not happen.

A good sponsor should be able to navigate the politics within your organization and bring attention to the roadblocks that arise during the course of the project. Often, the easiest path to overcoming a roadblock in any organization is simply making the rest of the organization aware that there is a problem.

A sponsor whose main concern is job security, afraid to step on the toes of those around them, or that does not want to disrupt the status quo will not be effective. Sure, they may obtain some results in cost reduction, but will not obtain the results that a proper initiative can deliver. The sponsor must know that they have the full support of the entire management team in order to an effective job.

Your project sponsor should be able to assist in the creation and development of the proper cross-functional team in your organization. In the next “Building your project team” post, we will focus on the criteria used to select your core team.
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William Dorn

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3 comments so far,Add yours

  1. About the selection process of the sponsor, how do you make it without involving a lot of politics in the process, as the sponsor is critical to the success of the project.

    There's a conflict also within the article itself, the article states that the Project Sponsor must be able to navigate through politics, while at the same time, step on the toes of those around him/her (if needed). How do you explain?

  2. I have been meaning to circle around and expand on this series of articles, I will try to do so in the near future as well as identify some further criteria for proper sponsor selection.

    As for your suggestion about a conflict in the article, I do not see your point. When referring to "navigating through politics" I am suggesting that a good strategic sourcing project sponsor should be able to overcome any political or cross-departmental issues that may (and will) come-up during the course of the sourcing initiative. This can only be accomplished by someone that has the ability to express the overall company goals of a project and overcome individual objections that arise from business units and departments. This is accomplished by a true understanding of the “end game” as well as a solid understanding of any individual objections or road-blocks that come up during the course of the project.
    Sure, a sponsor may need to make some concessions that may slightly modify the original path or project plan, but the end goal of the sourcing initiative should remain relatively consistent. This will often mean that the sponsor has to have “no fear” in dealing with objections (or stepping on toes) as long as their decisions are fact based, and non-emotionally driven and support the overall goals of the initiative.

  3. Thanks for the response.

    I don't know how easy it is to find such a person with neutral bias (and acting as a mediator between departments).

    The sponsor is a stakeholder (I've published an article once called a special stakeholder, the project sponsor), and thus is biased, whether to the company, to the employees, to his personal interests. My point is that what you're describing is an ideal Project Sponsor, someone that actually cares, and someone who is there when there are problems, and who's there to solve those problems.

    You might be lucky in smaller companies to have someone who's ideal, but in bigger companies, politics is always a factor, and even the best project sponsor must observe them.