One of the early challenges that all project managers face is to properly define the roles required on the project and to agree the responsibilities for each role.

By David Baker

This is an essential piece of work because it defines who can sign off on various stages or outputs of the project, and who is responsible for what aspects of managing the budget. It’s important to resist any temptation to skimp or rush this process, because it’s one of the tasks that really needs to be done right at the beginning of the project, which of course is one of the busiest periods for the project manager.

In this guide, I’m going to look at the various roles and responsibilities in project management and why they matter.

The PRINCE2 Project Management Methodology

As a comprehensive and established methodology, I’ll be using the PRINCE2 project management methodology, which fully maps out predefined project roles and responsibilities. This is incredibly useful because of the time saved compared with developing the roles from scratch, which can be a significant undertaking on a large project.

Also, because PRINCE2 is a scalable method, on a small project the key aspects of the main roles can be used. In addition, because these are roles rather than posts, the methodology states that aspects of most of the roles can be combined if the project can’t resource each role individually..

Roles Exist at Different Levels

PRINCE2 methodology is helpful in layering roles and responsibilities into four different levels. These are:

  • Programme management or corporate level
  • Project board level
  • Project manager’s responsibilities
  • Team level roles

In PRINCE2 these roles exist in a hierarchy. This causes comment from people who believe that projects are the ultimate flat structures. But the point of the hierarchy is that it establishes relationships between the different roles.

Because a project team is often composed of people who don’t usually work with each other, including consultants and contractors, this definition is vital. Otherwise you can get turf wars, where people have overlapping areas of responsibility, or gaps, where the responsibilities don’t fit together properly.

Let’s take a look at these roles in turn:

The programme management (or corporate level)

These roles are carried out by the project sponsors. They are responsible for developing the mandate and making sure that the project provides the expected benefits. They also calibrate the controls for the project, by defining the tolerances that will apply before exception reporting must take place. For example, on many projects, a 5% overspend on any individual contract is a reportable event.

The project board

Next comes the project board. The board takes the major decisions that are required. To ensure good decision-making, the board must have a user or business representative. The board ensures that the project has sufficient resources to carry out its mandate.

The project manager

The project manager role has its own level in the hierarchy and can’t be combined with any of the other roles. The PM is the link between the board and the project team and is responsible for ensuring that progress, tolerances, and budget are managed and monitored. The project manager prepares highlight reports for board meetings but must also produce urgent exception reports when tolerances are exceeded (preferably just before this happens, to satisfy “no surprises” rules).

The project team

The project team is often a combination of specialists, who are there to produce the project outputs to the agreed quality level, and generalists, who are covering the project administration roles, such as document management, supplier liaison and so on.

Stakeholders also have Roles

Users, suppliers and business partners or sponsors are all stakeholders. In some organisations, staff representatives, perhaps in the form of trade unions, are also stakeholders. The stakeholders need to be represented at team level because that is where the work is getting done, and practical input may be required. But they also need to function at board level, to ensure that the project decision making reflects the “real world” concerns of the business, the users, and the project’s suppliers.

Ensuring Sufficient Specialist Skills are Available

Nearly all projects struggle to acquire and retain enough specialist skills, with small projects being susceptible to this challenge, due to smaller teams and the manager facing a battle to get enough specialist time to make progress. On large projects, the problem may be that expensive contractors are racking up time while not producing anything because of a project delay.

This is why the resourcing element of the project plan is so vital. Using a project tool such as MS Project, you can then forecast the peaks and troughs of resource demand, and when the specialist skills will be needed. This will help the board to make practical decisions as to how to fill roles on the project. Once the plan is done, it may become obvious that certain specialist roles are best filled by people on short-term contracts. Conversely, it may be clear that other roles – perhaps administrative and support functions – are going to be needed throughout the project.

The great advantage of a project management methodology such as PRINCE2, is that the difficult first step of structuring the roles and defining the relationships between them, is done for you.

David Baker has over a decade’s worth of experience leading project teams in global projects for infrastructure and internal IT projects. He now works within the training industry for PRINCE2 Training, who provide courses and certification in PRINCE2, Agile, Lean Six Sigma, ITIL, PMP, and Scrum project management methodologies. You can connect with David and PRINCE2 Training on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Project management stock photo by ESB Professional/Shutterstock