Does executive sponsorship matter for realizing project management value

the relationship between senior management's perception of the sustainablilty of project management value and the executive sponsorship role

By

Co-Authors

Werner (Don) Gottwald, PhD, PMP

Capella University

Janice Lynne Thomas, PhD

Athabasca University

Abstract

Research suggests that interest in project management as a strategic tool may be short lived in specific organizations and may be waning in general. This paper shares the results of an empirical research study, which sought to understand the drivers that allow project management value to be sustainable. The study’s findings contribute to the project management body of knowledge by providing insight into the relationship between senior management’s perception of the sustainability of project management value and the formalization and support of the executive sponsorship role. Using a newly designed survey instrument, the quantitative study discussed in this paper examined responses from 91 U.S. executives in private sector organizations where project management practices were being used. A correlation analysis of the survey responses indicates that the formalized executive role (medium effect) and executive sponsorship responsibilities training (small effect) significantly relate to senior management’s perception of the sustainability of project management value. However, no significant relationship (no effect) exists between the prevalence of the executive sponsorship role within the organization and senior management’s perception of the sustainability of project management. These results have significant impact on both the theory and practice of how executive sponsorship plays a role in delivering project management value and on the level of importance project management office (PMO) managers put on developing the sponsorship role.

Keywords: executive sponsorship; project management value; and project management sustainability

Introduction

For organizations that deploy project management), evidence exists that interest in project management as a strategic tool may be waning (Thomas & Mullaly, 2008). For example, organizations reporting high levels of initial project management value are not seeing that same level of value sustained over time (Thomas & Mullaly, 2008). Senior management note that project management practices are implemented with no indication of further investment (Thomas & Mullaly, 2008). According to Thomas and Mullaly (2008), it is not clear whether project management value is actually being lost or whether there is simply a perception that project management value is lost. Their research demonstrates that there is no assurance that project management value can be sustained, presenting an opportunity to explore potential drivers that influence senior management’s perception on the sustainability of project management value. Although recent literature connects executive sponsorship to the creation of project management value (Silvius, Schipper, Planko, Van den Brink, & Kohler, 2012), there is no evidence as to whether executive sponsorship influences senior management’s perception of the sustainability of project management value within organizations or whether executive sponsorship drivers might influence that perception. This provides an opportunity to explore a research gap and investigate executive sponsorship as an influencer on senior management’s perception of project management value.

This paper presents empirical data on the relationship of senior management’s perception of the sustainability of project management value relative to the formalization and support of the executive sponsorship role. The research explores whether organizations are likely to continue to invest in project management practices in order to maintain or improve project management value as a result of the influence of executive sponsorship and the formalization and support of this role. The study examines how senior management beliefs about formalization and training might influence the executive sponsorship role and shape senior management’s perception of the sustainability of project management value.

Literature Review

Project Management Value

From a historical perspective, the constructs of project management and executive sponsorship have been joined for centuries. However, it was not until the late 1990s that scholarly literature suggested executive sponsorship contributed to project management value (Tighe, 1998; Wright, 1997). During the 2000s, several studies linked sponsorship to project success, an element of project management value (Bryde, 2008; Cooke-Davies, 2005; Crawford, Cooke-Davies, Hobbs, Labuschagne, Remington, & Chen , 2008b; Hall, Holt, & Purchase, 2003; Helm & Remington, 2005; Kloppenborg, Tesch, Manolis, & Heitkamp, 2006; Lechler & Cohen, 2009; Sense, 2013). More recently, with a focus on project management’s tie to organizational performance, executive sponsorship has been associated with senior management’s involvement in enforcing the strategic fit of projects, programs, and portfolios (Unger, Kock, Gemünden, & Jonas, 2012). It is through a better understanding of how project management can generate value that senior management will continue to invest in project management (Aubry & Hobbs, 2011; Thomas, Delisle, & Jugdev, 2002). As stated by Aubry & Hobbs (2011), “there is no consensus on the way to assess either performance or the value of project management” (p.5). Therefore research must explore potential linkages between the constructs and provide empirical evidence that executive sponsorship influences senior management’s perception on the sustainability of project management value (Kloppenborg, 2012).

Recent researchers have studied varying aspects of project management value (Cooke-Davies, 2002; Ibbs & Reginato, 2002; Kaplan & Norton, 1996; Lehmann, 2010; Peteraf, 1993; Pinto & Slevin, 1988). Additionally, scholars have studied varying facets of executive sponsorship (Blomquist & Müller, 2006; Cooke-Davies, 2005; Hall et al., 2003; Helm & Remington, 2005).

In the mid-2000s, Thomas and Mullaly (2008) conducted one of the most comprehensive studies in project management value, reviewing over 500 articles related to organizational value and performance measurement. The four year, mixed methods study, sponsored by the Project Management Institute (PMI), expanded on previous project management value work by conducting 447 interviews with 48 researchers in 65 organizations across 14 countries and five continents (Project Management Institute, 2009; Thomas & Mullaly, 2009). The intent of the study was to lend “relevance and statistical credibility” to the findings and provide a platform for case study expansion and the exploration of a number of untapped areas such as key drivers of project management value (Thomas & Mullaly, 2007, p. 74).

In Thomas and Mullaly’s (2008) model (see Figure 1), research shows that the value of project management is comprised of five principle areas: (a) satisfaction, (b) aligned use of practices, (c) process outcomes, (d) business outcomes, and (e) business results. Thomas and Mullaly also found that fit is a key influencer when determining potential drivers of value. Their model provides the present study’s impetus to explore drivers that enable the sustainability of project management value. In addition, Thomas and Mullaly’s five-part classification system forms the basis for measuring the sustainability of project management value in the present study.

Conceptual model of how project management creates value

Figure 1. Conceptual model of how project management creates value1.

Executive Sponsorship

Executive sponsorship literature provides insight into the roles, responsibilities, and effective performance of executive sponsors (Bryde, 2008; Crawford et al., 2008b; Helm & Remington, 2005; Kloppenborg et al., 2006; Sense, 2013; Sewchurran & Barron, 2008). Moreover, executive sponsorship theory incorporates the fit component of the project management value model (Crawford et al., 2008b; Thomas & Mullaly, 2008). This insight aids in understanding the organizational context (fit) or situation in which the executive sponsor needs to perform (Crawford et al., 2008b).

Similar to project management value, executive sponsorship continues to evolve. Over time, executive sponsorship has expanded from the traditional roles of champion and financier to bearing responsibility for strategic alignment of project/programs and the development of the project managers leading these efforts. According to Labuschagne, Cooke-Davies, Crawford, Hobbs, and Remington (2006), “one of the main conclusions from the study by Helm and Remington (2005) was that project sponsorship is a complex and poorly-understood area that could have serious implications for organizations” (p. 6). This finding, coupled with the growing interest in the application of situational leadership skills in project sponsorship and evidence of the importance of top management support, provided the basis for a Project Management Institute-sponsored study to explore the situational project sponsorship role (Cooke-Davies, Crawford, Hobbs, Labuschagne, & Remington, 2006; Crawford et al., 2008b; Labuschagne et al., 2006).

As a result of five separate pilot studies (phase one), Labuschagne et al. (2006) added eight sponsorship soft skills to Helm and Remington’s list of sponsorship attributes. In addition, six drivers of project sponsor effectiveness were identified (Cooke-Davies et al., 2006). Labuschagne et al. (2006) concluded “that no common understanding exists of the role and responsibilities of the sponsor which makes it impossible to determine the impact this role has on project success” (p.7). Additionally, Labuschagne et al. (2006) claimed the sponsorship role was not well-defined and varied in how it was used from one organization to another. The pilot conclusions laid the foundation for phase two, the development of a conceptual model that helped organizations make sense of the sponsor’s role in terms of their need for high or low project governance and support (Crawford et al., 2008b).

Although evidence shows that the sponsorship role has considerable variability in different organizational settings, there were seven consistent themes that provided the basis for a follow-on study (Crawford et al., 2008b). First, executive support is important to delivering successful projects (Cooke-Davies et al., 2006). Second, executive sponsors provide the linkage between corporate strategy and projects (Cooke-Davies et al., 2006). Third, organizational governance frameworks shape sponsors’ roles and responsibilities (Cooke-Davies et al., 2006). Fourth, attitude, behavior, and commitment influence executive sponsors’ effectiveness (Cooke-Davies et al., 2006). Fifth, project or program outcomes are affected by the relationships between corporate executives, executive sponsors, and project managers (Cooke-Davies et al., 2006). Sixth, effective executive sponsors understand their role and how their actions affect outcomes (Cooke-Davies et al., 2006). Seventh, executive sponsor involvement is measured by an organization’s stake in the project (Cooke-Davies et al., 2006). Based on these themes, codes were established that formed the basis for analysis for the main study (Crawford et al., 2008b).

The main study resulted in the development of a conceptual model, the Situational Sponsorship Model, to aid in understanding the sponsorship role (Crawford et al., 2008b). Within the model, governance and support are two key role dimensions of executive sponsorship, and self-management, excellent communication skills, and the ability to handle ambiguity are three behaviors associated with effective sponsorship performance (Crawford et al., 2008b). Attention was drawn to the sponsorship role in literature “resulting from numerous high-profile corporate collapses, which has highlighted the need for accountability, transparency, and the ability to implement strategy” (Crawford, Cooke-Davies, Hobbs, Labuschagne, Remington, & Chen , 2008a, p. S43).

In the governance role, executive sponsors coordinate activities between the corporate and project environments (Crawford et al., 2008b). In addition, the governance role is structured around six responsibilities: “governing the project, taking accountability for the business case and realization of benefits, giving direction and making decisions, reviewing progress critically, managing internal and external interfaces, and having sufficient seniority to represent the project/program” (Crawford et al., 2008b, p. 43). The importance of having top management project support is also an emerging theme due to competing or conflicting stakeholder interests (Crawford et al., 2008a).

In the support role, executive sponsors’ responsibilities include: “having credibility and utilizing networking ability, providing leadership, maintaining effective relationships, and being available and providing timely support” (Crawford et al., 2008b, p. 57). According to Crawford et al. (2008b), dealing with governance and support responsibilities depends upon an individual’s personality and behavior. Three behaviors are required for success: (a) excellent communication and listening skills; (b) handling ambiguity, especially in complex programs and projects; and (c) self-management when dealing with competing priorities (Crawford et al., 2008b). With an increased level of interest about how to successfully lead projects, programs, and portfolios at the enterprise level, research provides insight into the complexity of the role and considerations for who should fill this leadership-sponsorship role (Bennis, 2007; Blomquist & Müller, 2006; Bouraad, 2010; Christenson & Christenson, 2010; Crawford, 2006; Crawford et al., 2008b; Crawford, Hobbs, & Turner, 2006; Dinsmore & Rocha, 2012; Müller, 2009; Müller, Martinsuo, & Blomquist, 2008).

Gaps in the Literature

Exploring the project management value and executive sponsorship theoretical models identified gaps in the body of knowledge the present study sought to address. Thomas and Mullaly (2008), Crawford et al. (2008b), and Kloppenborg (2012) influenced this study by laying the foundation necessary to bridge the theories. The present study builds upon the recommendations of these researchers by providing insight into potential drivers related to the sustainability of project management value and by exploring the relationship between the executive sponsorship role and senior management’s perceptions of project management value sustainability.

While the importance of executive sponsorship has been prominent in recent literature, the focus on the skills required has been on general project management competencies (Crawford, 2005; Davis, 2011; Geoghegan & Dulewicz, 2008; Morris & Jamieson, 2005). Little has been written about specific executive sponsorship competencies and sponsor training needs. As an example, the Project Management Institute publishes a competency development guide for project managers but no such guide for sponsors (Project Management Institute, 2007). The project manager guide mentions sponsors only in terms of how project managers interact with sponsors during activities like reviewing development plans (Project Management Institute, 2007). It is pertinent to the present study to understand what competencies and or training have been studied that relate to performing the executive sponsor role (Christenson & Christenson, 2010; Crawford et al., 2008b; Hall et al., 2003; Hydari, 2012; Project Management Institute, 2007). There does not appear to be any literature linking the perceived value of project management and the existence of the project sponsorship role.

The present research is relevant and timely because insight into the power of executive sponsorship as it relates to organizational success has recently been a topic in scholarly and practitioner journals (Aubry & Hobbs, 2011; Kloppenborg, 2012; Sense, 2013). As organizations mature in their use of project management practices, projects are linked to strategic initiatives, and the implementation of successful strategic initiatives becomes the lifeline to organizational sustainability (Aubry & Hobbs, 2011; Dinsmore & Rocha, 2012; Müller, 2009; Silvius et al., 2012). By understanding the relationship between sponsorship and sustainability of project management value, organizations can assess their executive sponsorship programs and implement steps to support the executive sponsorship role. Furthermore, senior management can engage in active dialogue as to the value project management brings to the organization and discuss ways to sustain it. The findings of the present study advance the topic of project management value for strategic dialogue.

Research Questions

The primary research question that serves as the focus of this study is:

To what extent does the formalization and support of the executive sponsorship role influence senior management’s perception of the sustainability of project management value?

In support of the primary research question, three subsidiary questions are asked and hypotheses are tested by examining the relationships between construct variables. Figure 2 depicts the conceptual model of the interaction between the variables tested in the present study.

Sub-question 1. To what extent does executive sponsorship influence senior management’s perception of the sustainability of project management value?

Ho1. There is no relationship between executive sponsorship and senior management’s perception of the sustainability of project management value.

Sub-question 2. To what extent does executive sponsorship responsibilities training influence senior management’s perception of the sustainability of project management value?

Ho2. There is no relationship between executive sponsorship responsibilities training and senior management’s perception of the sustainability of project management value.

Sub-question 3. To what extent do formalized executive sponsorship roles influence senior management’s perception of the sustainability of project management value?

Ho3. There is no relationship between formalized executive sponsorship roles and senior management’s perception of the sustainability of project management value.

Conceptual model of construct interactions

Figure 2. Conceptual model of construct interactions.

Methodolgy

The research adopts a quantitative, non-experimental descriptive and exploratory approach using correlation analysis to investigate the relationship between executive sponsorship and senior management’s perception of the sustainability of project management value. A new survey instrument was developed using Likert-scale questions supplemented by open and closed-ended questions. Ethical issues were evaluated and not considered a concern. Thomas and Mullaly’s (2008) five-part classification system forms the basis for measuring the sustainability of project management value in the present study. From the situational sponsorship model, thirteen questions were adapted from the 10 roles and three behaviors identified by Crawford et al. (2008b), as well as seven questions on training. A question on mentoring was adapted from the findings on sponsor behavior that significantly and positively predicted project success (Kloppenborg, Manolis, & Tesch, 2009).

A field test was conducted with three academic field experts. Their suggestions resulted in no changes to the demographic questions, minor changes to the executive sponsorship questions, and a breakout of the project management value measurement definitions into individual questions in the sustainability of project management value section. Following the field study, Survey Monkey Inc. was used to administer an online pilot study to 88 participants. Of these 88 participants, 32 met the research criteria and agreed to the terms of the informed consent. Respondents were asked to record the time it took to take the survey, whether all questions where stated clearly, and for suggestions to clarify any unclear questions. Results showed that the desired time objective of 30 minutes or less was met, and no questions were unclear. Cronbach’s alpha was .974 (N = 32 with 59 variables), using IBM’s SPSS v21 statistical software package. Based on the pilot study results, no changes were made to the survey instrument.

Following the initial pilot study, the main study examined a population of executives with titles of Vice President and above based in the United States and working for private sector companies who had more than 500 employees and who used standardized project management practices within their organizations. Of the 197 senior managers targeted in the main study (see Table 1), the research used 91 responses from senior managers who met all of the selection criteria and completed all survey questions. The sample of 91 executives met the sample goal of at least 85 respondents, based on a statistical power analysis (Cohen, 1992). The sample size was determined by using a .80 power, which meant the analysis had an “80% chance of detecting an effect if one genuinely exists” (Field, 2009, p. 58). The sample size calculation also took into account a .3 effect size at the .95 statistically significant probability level. In the main study Cronbach’s alpha was retested. The results showed Cronbach’s alpha to be .97. The demographic study areas are depicted in Appendix A, and the survey constructs and associated measures are shown in Appendix B. Once the data was collected, several statistical tests were performed to describe the population sample and determine the significance of the relationships between the variables. Statistical tests for the variables and the hypotheses are outlined respectively in Appendix C and Appendix D.

Table 1. Population sample

Elimination Reason from Research Sample # of Participants
Participation Goal 85
Population targeted 197
Eliminated Participant did not want to participate in the survey 39
Organization has less than 500 employees 15
Participant has no senior management experience 17
Organization does not use standardized project management practices 24
Participant did not complete all questions 11 106
Research Sample Used 91

Results and Implications

Demographics

Demographic results show a diverse group of executive participants spanning multiple industries across varied fields of responsibilities (see Table 2), longevity in senior management, sponsorship experience, size and reach of organization, and self-proclaimed levels of project management maturity (see Table 3). Table 2 provides interesting insights into the sample of executive respondents based on their organizational demographic data. First, a high percentage of respondents are from general management (27.5%) and information systems or technology positions (35.2%). This is unsurprising as IT projects are both prevalent and often include high risk, and IT executives are likely to have an interest in the topics under study. Additionally, general management has a vested interest in seeing organizational-wide projects successfully implemented, and therefore, they are also likely to be interested in this study. The results suggest it may be beneficial to raise the level of interest of executive sponsorship and project management value in other functional areas. Second, the response percentages in both “Other” categories were high, Field of Responsibility (8.8%) and Organization’s Industry (16.5%), suggesting that in future studies more survey choices might be appropriate in order to study the influence of these demographics. Third, it was interesting that project oriented industries such as Consulting (6.6%), Construction (4.4%), and Engineering (9.9%), had lower participation rates. Manufacturing (16.5%), Banking (12.1%), and Financial (11.0%) executives were most prevalent. Further investigation shows that despite representing the highest category of participation within the study, manufacturing executives had the least amount of senior management experience among the six industries mentioned. This suggests that the Manufacturing industry is an area ripe for further investigation into the executive sponsorship role and its relationship to project management value.

Table 2. Demographic results for field of responsibility and industry

Demographic Category Response Percent Response Count
Field of Responsibility
Accounting 4.4 4
Finance 11 10
General Management 27.5 25
Human Resources 3.3 3
Information Systems or Technology 35.2 32
Marketing 0 0
Operations 8.8 8
No Response 1.1 1
Other 8.8 8
Organization’s Industry
Banking 12.1 11
Consulting 6.6 6
Construction 4.4 4
Communications 4.4 4
Education 6.6 6
Engineering 9.9 9
Financial 11.0 10
Healthcare 6.6 6
Manufacturing 16.5 15
Retail 3.3 3
No Response 2.2 2
Other 16.5 15

Table 3 presents participants’ individual demographic data. An examination of this data demonstrates that participants possessed a wide-variety of senior management experience within a wide-range of organizations using project management practices, providing a broad perspective for assessment. The results also suggest that the data is skewed toward male executives with an average length of senior management experience between 11-20 years. The organizations represented primarily have an employee base between 101 and 10,000, with a high concentration (58.2%) claiming to have a global organizational reach. In addition, the results indicate that the majority of responses are from organizations with a project management maturity of Level 3 or greater. This is in contrast to the findings by Thomas and Mullaly (2008) and suggests a potentially biased sample from executives with a good understanding of project management and a high level of project management maturity .

Table 3. Demographic results: gender, experience, employees, reach, project management maturity level and times sponsorship role performed

Demographic Category Response
Percent
Response
Count
Mean SD
Gender 1.68 .47
Female 31.9 29
Male 68.1 62
Length of Senior Management Experience (years) 3.90 1.54
1-5 1.1 1
6-10 14.3 13
11-15 35.2 32
16-20 19.8 18
21-25 13.2 12
26-30 5.5 5
>30 11.0 10
Number of Employees 3.39 .95
500 to 1,000 15.4 14
101 to 10,000 48.4 44
1001 to 100,000 18.7 17
More than 100,000 17.6 16
Organizational Reach 1.54 .70
Global 58.2 53
National 29.7 27
Regional 12.1 11
Project management Maturity Level 3.65 1.29
Level 1- Common project management language used 6.6 6
Level 2 – Common project management processes used 13.2 12
Level 3 – Singular project management methodology used 27.5 25
Level 4 – Benchmarking of project management processes done 14.3 13
Level 5 – Continuous improvement of project management 38.5 35
practices occurs as
a result of benchmarking activities
Performed a Sponsorship Role 3.5 1.33
Never 6.6 6
< 5 times 19.8 18
6-10 times 20.9 19
11-20 times 19.8 18
> 20 times 31.9 29
No response 1.1 1

Descriptive Statistics on Constructs

The main constructs of executive sponsorship and sustainability of project management value were examined using descriptive statistics, and data from this examination is presented in Table 4. The findings imply that executive viewpoints in each of the areas more than slightly agreed with the survey statements, indicating a favorable attitude toward the executive sponsorship role, the benefits of investing in project management, and the likelihood of continued investment.

Table 4. Descriptive statistics on components of sustainability of project management value

Variance Mean Median SD Variance Range
Min Max
Executive sponsorship 5.91 6.00 1.23 1.51 0 7
Prevalence 6.03 6.00 1.10 1.25 0 7
Formalized role 5.96 6.00 1.24 1.54 0 7
Responsibilities training 5.75 6.00 1.27 1.61 2 7
Sustainability of project management value 5.76 6.00 1.19 1.42 0 7
Benefits of investing in project management 5.74 6.00 1.18 1.40 0 7
Satisfaction 5.84 6.00 1.09 1.19 2 7
Aligned use of consistent processes 5.70 6.00 1.20 1.43 1 7
Process outcomes 5.77 6.00 1.14 1.29 2 7
Business outcomes 5.71 6.00 1.23 1.53 0 7
Return on investment 5.79 6.00 1.16 1.35 1 7
Likelihood to invest 5.79 6.00 1.20 1.44 1 7
Satisfaction 5.82 6.00 1.14 1.30 2 7
Aligned use of consistent processes 5.78 6.00 1.20 1.43 1 7
Process outcomes 5.86 6.00 1.16 1.35 2 7
Business outcomes 5.74 6.00 1.25 1.57 1 7
Return on investment 5.81 6.00 1.22 1.49 1 7

Normality

This study assumed that correlational research was an appropriate quantitative approach for investigating the relationships between variables (Cooper & Schindler, 2011). To determine the appropriate correlational statistical test, the data was tested for normality. Three tests for normality were performed: (a) skewness, (b) kurtosis, and (c) Kolmogorov-Smirnov (K-S). Negative values of skewness, positive values of kurtosis, and a K-S significance value of .000 for all variables validated that the data was not normal. As the data was not normal, the results implied Spearman’s correlation coefficient test should be used for testing the hypotheses rather than Pearson’s correlation coefficient.

Factor Analysis

A factor analysis implies that four factors should be used in the Spearman’s correlation coefficient test. A factor analysis with a loading factor of 0.4 was performed as a data reduction technique and confirmatory step to find survey questions that could be grouped for analysis. The factor analysis produced five factors with eigenvalues greater than 1 that explained 79.25% of the variance. The fifth factor, which explained 4.74% of the variance, was eliminated as values for the three questions in this factor were less than values for the same questions in other overlapping factors. The four remaining factors used in the correlation analysis explained 74.51% of the variance. Figure 3 graphically illustrates the scree plot for the factors.

In addition, Anti-image correlation matrices determined that no questions should be excluded. No diagonal values in the matrices were less than a value of 0.5 indicating that no questions should be excluded. Additionally, the Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin (KMO) statistical test determined that the factor analysis sample size was adequate. The KMO statistic was .838 indicating a high adequacy level for the sample size (Field, 2009).

Scree plot of factor extraction

Figure 3. Scree plot of factor extraction.

Covariance

Covariance testing implied a relationship between the variables within the constructs. However, data was not normal, so covariances were not relied upon when drawing relationship conclusions. In all cases, the covariances were positive indicating a relationship whereby as one variable moves away from the mean, the other variable will depart in the same direction (Field, 2009). Conducting this parametric test when the data was not normal implied that results were likely to be inaccurate, signaling a need to do further relationship testing applicable to non-parametric data.

Comparative Means

Comparative mean and Kruskal-Wallis statistical testing showed that three out of eight demographic areas had statistical significance in three or more of the twelve components that make up senior management’s likelihood to continue to invest in project management construct (see Appendix B for breakdown of survey question number 17 – Q17). The three demographic areas in order of greatest impact were: the number of times the executive performed the sponsorship role, the project management maturity level of their organization, and length of senior management experience (see Table 5). However, none of these demographics affected Q17.7- Our organization aligns to support projects or Q17.11- Projects deliver expected benefits and business outcomes within the likelihood to continue to invest construct (see Table 5). This finding suggests each of these question areas are candidates for further exploration in terms of what drivers might influence these benefits in regards to investing in project management.

Two benefits stand out as having the potential to have the greatest impact on the likelihood that senior managers will continue to invest in project management value. These benefits are an understanding of each project before it proceeds based on quality documentation (Q17.5) and having a consistent approach to project management (Q17.6). This implies that senior management engagement is essential. Executives with greater experience acting as project sponsors in conjunction with higher levels of organizational maturity in using project management increase the likelihood that investment in project management will occur or continue. The remaining five demographics, gender, field of responsibility, organization’s industry, number of employees, and organizational reach, did not affect senior management’s likelihood to continue to invest in project management.

Table 5. Statistically significant demographics on likelihood to continue to invest in project management value (Q17)

Demographics Question 17 (Q17)’s twelve components
.1 .2 .3 .4 .5 .6 .7 .8 .9 .10 .11 .12
# Times Sponsor
Project Management
Maturity Level
Sr. Mgmt. Experience

⎷ – a statistical significance exists for the demographic with survey Q17’s sub-question.

Implications from each of the statistically significant demographics are as follows. First, the number of times the executive performed the sponsorship role impacted eight out of twelve components of the likelihood to continue to invest in project management. The following eight areas (see Table 5) were influenced by the number of times an executive performs the executive sponsorship role: Q17.2, we have better tools, documentation, and templates for managing projects; Q17.3, our practices are easy to understand and apply in managing projects; Q17.4, our project roles and responsibilities are clearly defined, logical, and appropriate; Q17.5, our quality project documentation provides understanding of each project before it proceeds; Q17.6, we have a consistent approach by which projects are managed; Q17.8, our project management practices have an impact on the organization in terms of efficiency and effectiveness; Q17.9, our organizational culture is impacted by instilling ownership, accountability and commitment to projects and a willingness to ensure projects are successful; and Q17.10, our organization is more innovative and entrepreneurial. The results suggest the importance of having consistent project management practices and tools in place to ensure executive perception of well-run projects.

The number of times the executive has performed the sponsorship role is the only demographic that influences Q17.3 and Q17.9; Q17.3 - the benefits of understanding how practices are easy to understand and apply to managing projects and Q9 - whether project management practices affect the culture by instilling ownership, accountability, and commitment. This finding implies the more times an executive sponsors projects, the better they understand the benefits of project management and the impact to the organization. Figure 4 graphically depicts the differences in mean scores based on the number of times executives performed the sponsorship role. The data shows that executives who performed the sponsorship role more than 20 times produce the highest composite mean scores (6.15) supporting the conclusion that senior management engagement is essential if investment is likely to continue. It is interesting that executives who never performed the role were more likely to invest than executives who performed the role < 5 times. Examining the project management maturity levels of the organizations, executives who never performed the sponsorship role report a high percentage level of project management maturity Level 5 for their organizations (66%), while executives who performed the sponsorship role < 5 times represent only 17% of organizations with a project management maturity of Level 5. This suggests that executives without sponsorship experience perceive much higher levels of organizational maturity than executives that have performed the role < 5 times. Thus, executives that have not yet performed the sponsorship role but perceive their organizations are at a high level of project management maturity, are still more likely to continue to invest in project management value if that perception is high.

Mean comparisons for # of times sponsorship role performed

Figure 4. Mean comparisons for # of times sponsorship role performed.

Second, the project management maturity level correlates with seven of twelve components of the likelihood to continue to invest (see Table 5). The seven areas were: (a) Q17.2, we have better tools, documentation, and templates for managing projects; (b) Q17.4, our project roles and responsibilities are clearly defined, logical, and appropriate; (c) Q17.5, our quality project documentation provides understanding of each project before it proceeds; (d) Q17.6, we have a consistent approach by which projects are managed; (e) Q17.8, our project management practices have an impact on the organization in terms of efficiency and effectiveness; (f) Q17.10, our organization is more innovative and entrepreneurial; and (g) Q17.12, we receive a return on our investment for our investment in project management. Again, these results support the importance of having consistent practices and tools in place to increase the perception of producing well-run projects that produce results. The findings also indicate (see Table 5) that project management maturity level is the only demographic that had an influence on Q17.12, the perception of return on investment, implying the more an organization matures the more return on investment in project management they discover. Figure 5 graphically illustrates difference in mean scores based on the project management maturity level, indicating the more mature the organization is in practicing project management the higher the likelihood the organization is to continue to invest in project management value.

Mean comparisons for project management maturity level

Figure 5. Mean comparisons for project management maturity level.

Third, the length of senior management experience statistically influenced three of twelve components of the likelihood to continue to invest (see Table 5). The three areas affected were: (a) Q17.1, management is satisfied with how projects are run in this organization, (b) Q17.5, our quality of project documentation provides an understanding of each project before it proceeds, and (c) Q17.6, we have a consistent approach by which projects are managed. These results support the importance of having consistent project management practices and tools in place to ensure executive perception of well-run projects. Note in Table 5, senior management experience is the only demographic that influences whether management is satisfied with how projects are run in the organization, implying the importance of gaining top level support from the most senior levels of management.

Additionally, comparative mean and Kruskal-Wallis tests were performed to gain insight on the differences between senior management’s perspectives on the value the organization currently receives practicing project management and the likelihood senior management will continue to invest in project management as a result of that realized value. Results indicated statistical significance in all components (p < .05), implying that once value is perceived in a particular benefit area, then the likelihood to continue to invest due to the realized value can be anticipated. Figure 6 graphically illustrates the spread between mean scores for executive’s view of the realized project management value and senior management’s perception of the likelihood to continue to invest in project management. Note that Q17.10, our organization is more innovative and entrepreneurial, shows that low value is given to this benefit. This suggests that project management is perceived to be negatively correlated with innovation and implies more education may be needed to demonstrate how the practice of project management can generate an innovative and entrepreneurial culture.

Mean comparisons for realized project management value vs. continue to invest in project management

Figure 6. Mean comparisons for realized project management value vs. continue to invest in project management.

Hypotheses’ Findings

The primary research question for this study asked to what extent does the formalization and support of the executive sponsorship role influence senior management’s perception of the sustainability of project management value? Three hypotheses were formulated.

Hypothesis HA1. There is a relationship between executive sponsorship and senior management’s perception of the sustainability of project management value. Results indicated no significant relationship exists between executive sponsorship and senior management’s perception of the sustainability of project management value.

Hypothesis HA2. There is a relationship between executive sponsorship responsibilities training and senior management’s perception of the sustainability of project management value. Results indicated a significant relationship exists between executive sponsorship responsibilities training and senior management’s perception of the sustainability of project management value.

Hypothesis HA3. There is a relationship between formalized executive sponsorship roles and senior management’s perception of the sustainability of project management value. Results indicated a significant relationship exists between formalized executive sponsorship roles and senior management’s perception of the sustainability of project management value.

The results of the Spearman’s correlation coefficient and covariance test results are displayed in Table 6. With normal data, covariance is a measure of the average relationship between two variables. More precise testing was required in this study as the data was not normal. Spearman’s correlation coefficient test was performed to convert the non-parametric data into rank scores for measuring the strength of the relationship (effect size) between two variables: values of ±.1 represent a small effect; ±.3 represents a medium effect; and ±.5 represents a large effect. The correlation coefficient indicates the magnitude of the effect in terms of the proportion of the variance in the ranks that the two variables share. For instance, in Table 6 a correlation coefficient of .374 is determined for the formalized executive sponsorship roles. By squaring this number and converting it into a percentage, it is shown that formalized executive sponsorship roles shares 14% (medium effect) of the variability in the sustainability of project management value, sponsorship responsibilities training shares 4% (small effect) of the variability, and executive sponsorship has no effect.

Table 6. Hypothesis tests results on the sustainability of Pm value

Factor / Effect Spearman’s Correlation Coefficient Covariance Range
By Factor Component Variable Range Range
Formalized Executive Sponsorship Roles / Medium .374** .407** .842** .206* .589**
 
Sponsorship Responsibilities Training / Small .199* .447** .855** .389** .751**
 
Executive Sponsorship Prevalence / No .006 .319** .606** .391** .707**
** (1-tailed) 0.01 (1-tailed) 0.01 (2-tailed)
* 0.05 (1-tailed) 0.05 (2-tailed)
Correlation level of significance

The findings demonstrate a statistically significant relationship between senior management’s perception of the sustainability of project management value and the sponsorship role when formalization of the role and training were involved. The analysis revealed that formalization of the executive role with clear roles and responsibilities, and training were both statistically significant, while the prevalence of the role, absent formalization and training, was not. These findings imply that executives who perform a sponsorship role without clear roles and responsibilities and training are less likely to continue to invest in project management value than their counterparts in more formalized roles.

Discussion

It is surprising that the presence of a relationship between the prevalence of the executive sponsorship role within the organization and senior management’s perception of the sustainability of project management value (Hypothesis 1) was not supported by the data. The expectation was that a relationship would exist between the two variables even if the sponsorship role is performed without training or formalized roles and responsibilities. This was not the case in this study. If a sponsor did not have training and did not have clearly defined roles and responsibilities, then the role of executive sponsor alone was not going to influence the sustainability of project management value

Additionally, it is noteworthy that managers who perform the sponsorship role more often are more likely to continue to invest in project management value, the exception being executives who do not perform the role at all. Executives who never perform the role yet have a high perception of their organization’s project management maturity level were more likely to continue to invest in project management value than those who had performed the role < 5 times. This suggests that perception of project management maturity level might have an influence on executives who never perform the sponsorship role in terms of their continued investment in project management value. The findings also suggest the importance of actively engaging all senior management in the sponsorship role with proper roles and responsibilities and training to ensure that project management practices continue to evolve and project management value can be sustained.

It was not surprising to find that having a high project management maturity level or senior management experience in performing the role was significantly associated with the decision to continue to invest in project management. This implies that the more an executive knows about how to successfully execute project management the more benefits will be derived and in turn increase the likelihood they will invest in project management value. However, this dynamic potentially presents a chicken-and-the-egg effect, which can be problematic if support for project management is not driven from the top down with full senior management support. For example, how can organizations at the lowest levels of project management maturity ensure continued investment when those organizations with the most project management maturity are the ones more likely to continue to invest? Thus, the challenge lies with securing continued project management investment when an organization is less mature, implying the importance of top-down support when implementing organizational project management versus a bottom-up effort. By engaging senior management, this also implies the need to identify project management as a strategic investment and support its implementation with an organization-wide change management plan.

Implications of the Study Results

The results of this research add to the project management body of knowledge by analyzing potential drivers that influence the sustainability of project management value. The findings show that a formalized executive sponsorship role and support of that role through training have a significant correlation to senior management’s perception of the sustainability of project management value. The findings can be used to provide senior management with insight into the benefit of using executive project sponsorship as a tool to enhance the positive perception of project management value within the organization. For example, the results could stimulate discussion on topics such as how involved executives should become in project sponsorship, which executives make the best sponsors, how sponsorship is working within an organization, and what support is needed to effectively achieve positive results. In addition, the findings can be used to stimulate dialogue among senior management with regards to the formalization and support of the sponsorship role. Potential topics might involve investigating whether sponsorship roles are clearly defined within an organization, if formalized roles and responsibilities adequately meet organizational needs, whether roles and responsibilities should be updated or enhanced, or what executive sponsorship training entails including how to hold senior management accountable when performing this role.

In regard to the findings’ relevancy to organizational project management, the research provides empirical evidence identifying drivers of the sustainability of project management value, a gap identified by Thomas and Mullaly (2008). The findings also support material by Aubry and Hobbs (2011) and Sense (2013) by providing insight into the power of executive sponsorship as it relates to organizational success. Finally, in the field of strategic management, the results could contribute to discussions on the advantages of executive project sponsorship oversight for strategic initiatives and the investment in project management in terms of long-range organizational strategy. The results could also help senior management determine if project management is a strategic competency that deserves continued investment within an organization. The findings serve to stimulate dialogue on questions such as: is project management considered a strategic asset; how is project management leveraged today; what value is currently received from project management; and how much money should be invested in project management practices. From a theoretical perspective the findings contribute to the project management body of knowledge by showing that prevalence of the sponsorship role does not impact the sustainability of project management value without training and/or formalized roles and responsibilities.

Conclusion

This paper provides empirical evidence that a relationship exists between the executive sponsorship role and the sustainability of project management value when formalization of the role and training are utilized. Drawing from literature on project management value and executive sponsorship, the research fills gaps by identifying role formalization and training as drivers of the sustainability of project management value and by providing evidence on the sponsorship role in terms of roles, responsibilities, behaviors, and its prevalence by executives who perform the role.

The practical significance of the evidence provides insight to senior management who make decisions as to whether or not to continue to invest in and leverage project management practices within their organizations. The findings provided material to stimulate discussion around the use of executive project sponsorship as a tool to enhance the positive perceptions of project management value within the organization. New knowledge, that the organization’s project management maturity level, the number of times executives perform the sponsorship role, and the length of senior management experience influence how likely the executive is to continue to invest, provided material for these discussions. Viewpoints on sponsorship roles, responsibilities, behavior, and prevalence of the role within organizations provide additional ammunition for dialogue examining the accountability of sponsorship within the organization. The research also suggests the importance that PMO managers or implementers pay attention to the development and support of the executive sponsor role.

The theoretical significance of the findings contributes to the growing body of executive sponsorship and organizational project management literature. In the field of strategic management, the findings provide material to stimulate discussion on the advantages of executive project sponsorship oversight for strategic initiatives and the investment in project management in terms of long-range organizational strategy. The findings also open the door to explore the question as to whether or not project management is a strategic competency that deserves continued investment.

Research Limitations

This paper examined new research on the relationship between the executive sponsorship role and the sustainability of project management value. There were limitations to the study’s design and sample that should be acknowledged. First, the survey instrument was new, and reliability, validity, and credibility were unproven (Creswell, 2009). This was remedied by first field-testing to establish credibility and then piloting to establish validity and reliability. Field and pilot testing provided valuable input to the survey instrument’s design and willingness on the part of the participants to complete the survey. Questions on length of time to take the survey and clarity of the questions were asked.

Second, in terms of the sample, it was speculated that the web-based vendor, SurveyMonkey Inc., might have difficulty recruiting a sufficient sample size of the targeted audience (Sue & Ritter, 2007). This was addressed by refining the participant criteria to include senior management with and without project sponsorship experience. In addition, the incidence rate for determining how broadly to cast a search was increased to enhance the likelihood of reaching a sufficient sample from the targeted audience. It was also imagined that respondents might not complete the survey, thereby providing insufficient data for analysis. This was remedied by crafting an engaging informed consent form that encouraged participation to complete the survey by highlighting the benefits of participation in the survey. Furthermore, the selection of survey respondents relied on self-reporting, and survey participants decided whether they met the selection criteria. There was no easy way to validate that respondent responses to the qualifications actually met the study’s criteria. The research relied on the respondents answering selection criteria questions truthfully. Noting that the sample was stratified rather than random, a random sample would have increased the likelihood of obtaining a normal distribution. Having a sample that was not normal was also a limitation as to the statistical tests that could be performed. Finally, the sample size of 91 U.S. executives distributed across 23 industries limited the ability to apply the results to any particular industry or organizations outside the United States.

Third, the sample includes a very high percentage of organizations reporting a level 5 project management maturity than has been predicted as appropriate or reported in other similar studies. This suggests that the study includes a bias towards participation by executives from organizations that care about and invest in project management. This also suggests that the level of project management maturity may not be well understood and additional explanation in the survey instrument may be needed. Further studies may have to attempt to include randomly identified executives rather than using self-selection in order to eliminate this type of bias.

Recommendations for Future Research

Recommendations for future research include suggestions to help refine the research design and identify further areas to explore regarding the sustainability of project management value. First, it would be useful to replicate the study to test the reliability and validity of the survey instrument. This would provide further evidence substantiating that the survey instrument measured what it intended to.

Second, the study should be replicated using a larger sample size for the purpose of studying the impact of the demographics on the sustainability of project management value in order to evaluate the potential impact of industry and size of organization on perceived project management value. This would allow the sample to approach normality so parametric tests could be performed, and the significance of the demographic impacts could be determined. By studying the impacts of demographics on the sustainability of project management value, it would be possible to compare the groupings within demographic categories and determine which groupings were more likely to continue to invest in project management. This insight would provide senior management with possible areas to explore within their own organizations in terms of the prevalence of the role and the need for formalization and support.

Third, further exploration of the demographics to test the impact on the hypotheses is recommended. For example, the results showed that the majority of responses are from organizations with a project management maturity level at Level 3 or greater. This is in contrast to the findings by Thomas and Mullaly (2008). A potential research study might be to partition the sample based on project management maturity level and test to see if the responses are different between the groups.

Lastly, qualitative studies should be conducted to examine the reasons why executives believe in the perceived benefits of project management value and senior management’s perception of an organization’s likelihood to continue to invest in project management value. By studying the rationale behind senior management’s responses, it would be possible to identify other potential drivers to the sustainability of project management value.

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Appendix A: Demographic Question Response Choices

Gender Field of Responsibility
Female Accounting
Male Finance
General Management
Length of Senior Management Experience Human Resources
(years) Information Systems or Technology
1–5 Marketing
6–10 Operations
11–15 No Response
16–20 Other
21–25
26–30 Organization’s Industry
>30 Banking
Consulting
Number of Employees Construction
500 to 1,000 Communications
101 to 10,000 Education
1001 to 100,000 Engineering
More than 100,000 Financial
Healthcare
Organizational Reach Manufacturing
Global Retail
National No Response
Regional Other
Project Management Maturity Level
Level 1- Common project management language used
Level 2 – Common project management processes used
Level 3 – Singular project management methodology used
Level 4 – Benchmarking of project management processes done
Level 5 – Continuous improvement of project management
practices occurs as
a result of benchmarking activities
Performed a Sponsorship Role
Never
< 5 times
6–10 times
11–20 times
> 20 times
No response

Appendix B. Survey Instrument Constructs and Measurements

Survey Instrument Groupings
Grouping # of Questions Construct Measured
1 8 Demographics: gender, organizational reach, etc.
2 25 Executive project sponsorship
3 24 Sustainability of project management value

 

Constructs Measured by Survey Instrument
Construct / Measures Variable Question # # of Questions
Executive sponsorship
Prevalence Independent Q10 4
Formalized role Intervening Q12-Q14 14
Training Intervening Q15 7
Sustainability of project management value Dependent
Benefits of investing in project Q16
management
Satisfaction 2
Aligned use of and consistent 5
processes
Process outcomes 1
Business outcomes 3
Return on investment 1
Likelihood to invest Q17
Satisfaction 2
Aligned use of and consistent 5
processes
Process outcomes 1
Business outcomes 3
Return on investment 1

Appendix C. Statistical Tests

Statistical Tests on Variables
Question Type Question #s Test Test Purpose
Demographics Q2-Q9, Q11 Means, standard deviations, distributions, and box plots Describe population sample
Independent, Intervening, and Dependent Variables Q10 and Q12-Q17 Skewness, kurtosis, and K-S Determine normality of the data
Independent, Intervening, and Dependent Variables Q10 and Q12-Q17 Cronbach’s alpha Re-test survey instrument reliability (previously tested in pilot study)
Independent, Intervening, and Dependent Variables Q2-Q4, Q6-Q9, Q11 and Q17 Kruskal-Wallis Test statistical significance
Independent, Intervening, and Dependent Variables Q10 and Q12-Q17 KMO Determine if sample size is adequate
Demographics, Independent, Intervening, and Dependent Variables Q2-Q9 and Q11 with Q17; Q16 with Q17 Compare means Determine differences between variables
Independent, Intervening, and Dependent Variables Q10 and Q12-Q17 Factor analysis Data reduction and confirmatory step on questions that can be grouped for analysis
Independent, Intervening, and Dependent Variables Q10, Q12-Q17 Covariance Determine average relationship between two variables

Appendix D. Statistical Tests Used to Test Hypotheses

Statistical Tests Used to Test Hypotheses
Hypothesis Independent or Intervening Variable Dependent Variable Test Test Purpose
HA1 Independent – Executive sponsorship Sustainability of project management value Spearman’s Correlation Coefficient Determine strength of relationship
HA2 Intervening – Executive sponsorship responsibilities training Sustainability of project management value Spearman’s Correlation Coefficient Determine strength of relationship
HA3 Interveningx – Formalized executive sponsorship roles Sustainability of project management Value Spearman’s Correlation Coefficient Determine strength of relationship

Dawne Chandler, PhD, PMP holds a PhD in Organization and Management, Project Management specialization, from Capella University and a MBA and BS from Syracuse University. With 35+ years of corporate experience, Dawne retired recently to build her consulting practice, publish, and teach. Her last position was the Vice President of Operations at DST Output, one of the nation’s largest print/mail and electronic outsourcing firms, overseeing strategic planning and their national PMO. There she held various executive positions in sales/marketing, product and process re-engineering, and heading an electronic services start-up. Before, she spent 18 years at IBM in various technical, sales, consulting, and management positions.

1 Project Management Institute, Researching the Value of Project Management – 2008, Project Management Institute, Inc., 2008. Copyright and all rights reserved. Material from this publication has been reproduced with the permission of PMI.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

©2014 Project Management Institute Research and Education Conference

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