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Defining roles and responsibilities in project management

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Project management is a very much misunderstood profession that has often been equated to herding cats. Project management isn’t a single discipline, but a practice of bringing a set of disciplines together in order to achieve a common goal and objective.

One of the big challenges in project management then is the definition and attribution of individual roles in projects that often require expertise and involvement from across an organization. Today, I want to take a look at how these roles and responsibilities are defined and maintained and the importance in doing so.

The PRINCE2 methodology definition

Project management policies are frameworks and principles that underpin the planning, execution and success of projects across any given corporate structure, industry or product.  Project management teams hold roles and responsibilities at their core. If we look at the principles of the PRINCE2 methodology, the most widely practiced, we’ll see the importance of roles and responsibilities is described like this. As Wikipedia notes:

“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 programme management, project board, project manager level and team level).”

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

Project management roles and responsibilites

Broadly speaking, the stated hierarchy is defined by the level of involvement.

  • Corporate management level refers to the project’s sponsors 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. It is the job of the board to provide the necessary resources and funding to the PM and his/her team.

  • The project manager is responsible for the day-to-day management of the project and is responsible for liaising and reporting back progress to the project board. Because this project role is so pivotal and dependent on management skills, it can’t be merged with other team roles and exists on a hierarchical level of its own. Dedicated project management professionals are sometimes preferred, but not always needed.

  • The project team are responsible for executing and delivering the project within agreed time, cost and quality tolerances. Project team member’s 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 and time management.

The importance of hierarchy is largely a working consideration in the execution of a project, in that it creates clear boundaries between roles. At a deeper level, PRINCE2 has a clearly defined responsibilities table with each product (outcome) broken down by where any given producer, approver or reviewer sits in the hierarchy.

Stakeholders & defining roles and responsibilities

Another core aspect of role definition in the project management processes are stakeholder roles. These stakeholder roles are defined by their interest in the project and its products and are as follows:

  • Business sponsors: Individuals who make sure the project delivers value for money.

  • Users: The recipient of the product that the project has been setup to deliver.

  • Suppliers: Those supplying the resources or skills in order for the project to deliver.

The PRINCE2 program 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 utilize the individual skillsets available to you. The tension comes when there is a need for a specific specialism or technical skill set in order 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 role of the project manager to balance a multi-skilled team with a more specialized one. This will involve thorough project planning and stages of project management to fully understand where specific skillsets will be required and what other stages will be dependent on this.

In some instances, it may be necessary to outsource, but this presents its own set of challenges, not least in getting the budget signoff required and being mindful of risk management practices.

Project management tools include a structure and framework, but flexibility is also a project requirement for adapting any given environment and the unique challenges they pose. A key determinant of 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 and in the loop.

David Baker has worked within the training industry for many years with PRINCE2 Training. Working on courses such as PRINCE2, ITIL, PMP, Agile, Scrum and Lean Six Sigma. PRINCE2 Training delivers world-class accredited training solutions to thousands of organizations and individuals throughout the world.

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