Typical Key Project Roles & Responsibilities

Posted on 13th August, by JimYoung in Blog. Comments Off on Typical Key Project Roles & Responsibilities

Professional relationships between us project managers (PMs) and our sponsors are organic – they are born, they grow, they mature, and ultimately they conclude. Importantly, we must clearly agree our respective roles and responsibilities at the start of the project and any changes to these as our project proceeds. The first thing that we might do is interview each other to assess each other’s skills, experience and philosophy. Our agreed roles and responsibilities may be included in the project charter and plan. Other than deciding our respective roles and responsibilities, two essential matters for us to clarify with our sponsor at this first meeting are:

  1. Problem. What is the problem, opportunity or compliance issue that our project is to address? We want to clearly establish why the project exists.
  2. Success. What would a successful project outcome be? We want to know exactly what constitutes success.

Project Sponsor’s Role. Project sponsors are primarily involved in funding the project but are more than just figureheads. We PMs need someone to talk to who has the business authority to make decisions and commit the money and other resources we need for our project. This person is the project sponsor who champions the cause, secures funding, and represents the eventual owner of the project product. The sponsor is accountable for the achievement of the business case and will normally be a senior manager with a relevant area of responsibility that will benefit from the project. They are involved from the start of the project, before we PMs have been appointed, but are outside the day-to-day hands-on running of our project, albeit that some misguided sponsors become de-facto PMs. Our sponsor’s involvement appropriately intrudes into the operational life of the product when benefits are being realised.

Project Sponsor’s Responsibilities. The sponsor is overall accountable for the success of the project. They have the authority to sponsor the project and are available to help the project succeed. They will assure themselves that the project remains healthy and will decide on proposed changes. While there is no standard job description for our sponsor, typically they:

  1. Authorise and champion the project.
  2. Own the business case and approve changes to it.
  3. Maintain communication with key stakeholders.
  4. Appoint the project manager.
  5. Provide higher-level guidance and support.
  6. Chair the project steering committee if one is established.
  7. Prepare the project charter for release.
  8. Set risk thresholds.
  9. Specify key milestone, parameter thresholds, and product due dates.
  10. Approve the project plan, significant variations, deliverables and the final report.
  11. Approve the project budget and any additional funds for scope changes.
  12. Maintain a management reserve and authorise its use.
  13. Ensure resources are available.
  14. Resolve escalated issues.
  15. Attend key project meetings.
  16. Monitor project performance.
  17. Arrange independent project audits.
  18. Account for funds assigned to the project.
  19. Know when to pull the plug on the project.
  20. Ensure change is properly managed.
  21. Oversee the delivery of project benefits.

A sponsor is a business leader and decision-maker, with the credibility to work across functional boundaries as required and is ready to commit time and support to the role. They need to be a keen advocate for the project and the change and benefits it brings, and sufficiently knowledgeable about PM to judge if the project is being properly managed. Once a working relationship has been developed with the sponsor, we can jointly decide on the composition of the project team. 
Sometimes sponsors are assigned the role and sometimes they choose to be sponsors. Either way they can have a big impact on project success. They need to be engaged, although some are too passive, some micromanage, and some are too busy elsewhere. Those sponsors with a meddling disposition may leave us feeling that we’re not trusted. Also, this behaviour may mean they miss the big picture while they are focused on immaterial details. Despite the importance of their role, many sponsors, especially those new to the role, don’t fully understand their responsibilities and may come into a project with misguided ideas of how it will run. There are plenty of training programmes for PMs, but very few for project sponsors, not all of whom have been PMs.

Project Manager’s Role. We PMs supervise and control the daily work needed to achieve the project goal and ensure that our project is delivered on time, within budget and to the required quality standards. We also lead our team and other stakeholders. Essentially, our role is to create an environment in which our project team can be successful.

Project Manager’s Responsibilities. While some people think a PM’s sole job is to remind everyone about deadlines, crack the whip, and arrange status meeting, that’s simply not the case. As a PM we’re personally responsible for the entire day-to-day management of our project and while there’s no standard job description, we are accountable to the sponsor for project success, and we might therefore:

  1. Help the sponsor prepare the project business case.
  2. Reports to and receives direction from the sponsor
  3. Help prepare the project charter.
  4. Be accountable to the sponsor, client and other stakeholders for project success.
  5. Decide the PM methodology to be used.
  6. Define the project product and work scope – both inclusions and exclusions.
  7. Recruit project team members.
  8. Manage and lead the project team.
  9. Manage external contracts and contractors.
  10. Develop and refine project cost estimates.
  11. Negotiate resource needs with functional managers.
  12. Prepare and update the project plan.
  13. Define responsibilities and performance targets for team members.
  14. Arrange project procurement contracts.
  15. Monitors contract compliance
  16. Communicate regularly with stakeholders.
  17. Periodically assess client satisfaction.
  18. Identify and manage risk.
  19. Authorise the use of contingency reserves.
  20. Monitor and control project risk and issue logs.
  21. Monitor and manage project progress.
  22. Mediate conflicts.
  23. Resolve or escalate project issues.
  24. Manage project scope and variations.
  25. Manage cash-flow and budget.
  26. Maintain project files.
  27. Produce the project product.
  28. Periodically report project status to the sponsor and other key stakeholders.
  29. Manage project closure.
  30. Inform line managers about team members’ performance.
  31. Arrange for the client’s approval of project products.
  32. Identify and implement product user training.
  33. Manage change to ensure the new product is properly adopted.
  34. Participate in benefits realisation reviews (product evaluation).
  35. Prepare post-project evaluation reports that include lessons learned.

Project Team Members. The project team consists of the full-time and part-time people assigned to work on our project. We may or may not have absolute control over the selection of our project team members, but we should be involved in their selection and take into consideration factors such as their skills and expertise, emotional intelligence, personalities and team fit. The project team are accountable to us as PM and are responsible for:

  1. Completing assigned tasks to budget, timeline and quality expectations.
  2. Working co-operatively with other team members.
  3. Identifying and monitoring risk associated with their work.
  4. Requesting variations and implementing those that are approved.
  5. Managing the resolution of issues, or escalating these to the PM.
  6. Reporting progress to PM.
  7. Attending PM meetings.

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