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David Baker

Management

Defining Roles and Responsibilities in Project Management

Essential strategies for herding cats

Published: Wednesday, April 4, 2018 - 11:01

Project management is a misunderstood profession that has often been equated with herding cats. Much of this confusion comes from the fact that project management isn’t a single discipline, but rather the practice of bringing a set of disciplines together to achieve a common goal.

One of the big challenges in project management is the defining and attributing individual roles in projects that often require expertise and involvement from across an organization. I want to take a look at how these roles and responsibilities are defined and maintained, and why it’s important to do so.

The PRINCE2 methodology definition

Project management methodologies are frameworks and principles that underpin the planning, execution, and success of projects across any given corporate structure, industry, or deliverable. The definition of roles and responsibilities are core to all project management methodologies. If we look at the principles of the PRINCE2 methodology, which is the most widely practiced in the world today, we’ll see the importance of roles and responsibilities described this way, as noted in Wikipedia: “Roles are separated from individuals, who may take on multiple roles or share a role. Roles in PRINCE2 are structured in four levels (corporate or program management, project board, project manager level, and team level).”

The PRINCE2 methodology stresses the importance of role definition and hierarchy but is also flexible enough to recognize that some predefined roles can be merged, while others can’t.

Broadly speaking, the stated hierarchy is defined by the level of involvement.
The corporate management level refers to the project’s sponsors, whose primary involvement will be defining the project’s mandate, defining project level tolerances, and ensuring that the project delivers value for money.
The project board (sometimes referred to as a steering committee) can be seen as the executive and will comprise key decision makers, including a business-oriented individual who is ultimately responsible for the project. It is the board’s job to provide the necessary resources and funding to the project manager and his team.
The project manager is responsible for the day-to-day management of the project and is responsible for liaising and reporting progress to the project board. Because this role is so pivotal, it can’t ever be merged with other roles and exists on a hierarchical level of its own.
The project team is responsible for executing and delivering the project within the agreed time, cost, and quality tolerances. Team members’ roles will vary depending on project scope and size. These could include various support roles with administrative and data-compiling duties, as well as asset management.

The importance of hierarchy is largely an operational consideration when executing a project, in that it creates clear boundaries between roles. At a deeper level, PRINCE2 also has a clearly defined responsibilities tables with each product (i.e., outcome) broken down by where any given producer, approver, or reviewer sits in the wider hierarchy.

Stakeholder roles

Defining stakeholder roles is another core aspect of the project management methodology. These stakeholder roles are defined by their interest in the project and its deliverables and include the following:
Business sponsors: Individuals who make sure the project delivers value for money.
Users: The beneficiaries of the product that the project has been set up to deliver.
Suppliers: Those supplying the resources or skills to deliver the project goals.

The PRINCE2 methodology dictates that all stakeholder roles must be represented at both the project board and project team level. Individuals at all levels should be able to understand what is expected of them, what is expected of others, and who the key decision makers are.

Specialists vs. generalists

In many projects, especially smaller projects, skills might need to overlap in order to fully use the individual skillsets available. Tension comes when there is a need for a specific specialty or technical skill set to complete a given task. In these cases, the more generalist skill sets of a project team may not be able to fill the gap.

It is the project manager’s role to balance a multiskilled team with a more specialized one. This will involve thorough planning and managing the project in stages (another PRINCE2 principle) so as to fully understand where and when specific skill sets will be required and what other stages will be dependent on them.

In some instances, it may be necessary to outsource or bring in external specialist help, but this presents its own set of challenges, not least getting the budget sign-off required.

Project management requires a structure and framework, but it also requires flexibility to adapt to any given environment and the unique challenges it poses. A key determinant to success, however, will always be the proper definition of roles and responsibilities. Getting this right from the outset will make for a smoother journey, where everyone involved is engaged.

First published on the SmartBrief blog.

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About The Author

David Baker’s picture

David Baker

David Baker has worked within the training industry for many years with PRINCE2 Training, a process-based method for effective project management. He’s also worked on courses for Agile, Scrum, lean Six Sigma, Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, and ITIL, a globally recognized set of guidelines and best practices for IT services.