Business projects tend to bring people together from within an organisation (as well as from without) to carry out various activities that aren’t always part of their normal job function. Some of these people may be contractors and specialists, brought in to provide functions and services that the organisation can’t provide itself, others may be members of staff who are seconded from their normal roles in order to help deliver the project.

It’s important that everyone on the project is clear about what other people are doing and what their level of responsibility is. For this reason roles and responsibilities need to be defined early on in the life of a project, in order to avoid confusion and create a structure that will allow the project to progress effectively on time and on budget.

In this article I want to explore how roles, and by definition individual responsibilities, are defined on a project.

Roles need to be defined early on

It’s important to understand that if roles aren’t clarified early on in the project, there can be a number of adverse consequences:

  • Responsibilities can be omitted, blurred or glossed over – for example, ultimate responsibility for the project budget.
  • Responsibilities can be duplicated, leading to turf wars and re-work.
  • Where people with responsibilities in the day-to-day business are seconded to a project, there may be confusion or even conflict between their normal role and their project role.

For this reason, it’s a good idea to draw up a table showing everyone’s roles in the project, and their roles in the organisation. This will inform all stakeholders of the structures and hierarchies that currently exist and the responsibilities that apply to the project.

Roles and Responsibilities in PRINCE2 Project Management Methodology

Defining roles is a challenging area of project management, as every project is different. A scalable and adaptable project management methodology like PRINCE2 is designed to help define roles, whilst allowing for enough flex to scale to projects of any size, scope or industry sector.

Roles can be amalgamated or even dropped in PRINCE2, meaning project members will need to be flexible about the way that roles and responsibilities are configured across the project. Assigning a separate person to each role is only possible on very large projects with well-resourced project teams and boards. Generally, for most projects, it’s necessary to combine roles to ensure that all responsibilities are fulfilled within the project budget.

Project Structure 

Any project hierarchy spans four distinctive and necessary levels. It’s helpful to consider these four levels within which the project operates. They are as follows:

Corporate Management

First, there’s the corporate level, which is where the project sponsor is usually located. They will have drawn up the mandate for the project – but not before arguing the business case and convincing other senior executives that the benefits make the project worthwhile.

Project Board

Next, there’s the project board which is sometimes seen as a steering committee. The board is definitely not involved in the day-to-day running of the project and should be listening to reports and taking in the whole picture – progress, risks, exceptions, resourcing and other issues. This enables it to steer the project both by referring upwards to the corporate level and by guiding the project manager. Project boards tend to include an executive (who is ultimately responsible for the project), a senior user and senior supplier (more on these later).

Project Manager

After that, there’s the project manager who is tasked with performing a vital coordination role between the project board and the project team. PMs are also responsible for directing all project work according to the project scope, budget and schedule.

Project Team

And finally, there’s the project team, who will also have a set of different roles which define their specific contributions to the project. This can range from administrative tasks to more specialised roles related to configuration management, risk management and planning.

Users, Suppliers and Stakeholders

Whether an organisation is using the PRINCE2 method or not, some confusion over responsibilities often arises. Should a supplier attend a board meeting? Is an in-house IT department a supplier? Are the stakeholders just users or something different? Can a senior executive be a senior user?

Let’s look at some common problems in defining responsibilities:

Suppliers

Many organisations want the supplier to attend the board meeting in order to brief the board. But if the supplier is an external third party, there may be contractual and performance issues that need to be discussed without the supplier being present. Similarly, the organisation may wish any discussions around the project budget to be confidential. The solution to this is simply to invite the supplier to the first half of the meeting, after which they leave. It’s definitely the case that an in-house department providing products (deliverables) to the project is considered a supplier.

User

A senior executive can certainly be the senior user if the project is delivering outputs into the area for which the executive has ultimate responsibility. But there may be a manager below the executive, who has a more detailed understanding as to what the project should be delivering and is, therefore, a more appropriate person to nominate as a senior user.

Stakeholders

And as for stakeholders, they come in many guises but are always people who have a specific interest in the project – whether that is the public, employees, staff representatives, customers, business partners or other groups.

Conclusion

Event the smallest of projects can be complex and diverse affairs, calling on a range of skills and talent that require a predefined structure and framework but also the flexibility to adapt to their environment. By effectively defining roles and responsibilities from the outset, you significantly reduce the risk of conflicts of interest, work duplication and communication breakdown, all of which can lead to scopecreep and missed deadlines.

 

About the Author: David Baker has worked within the training industry for many years with PRINCE2 Training and has contributed on courses in project management including PRINCE2, ITIL, PMP, Agile, Scrum, Lean Six Sigma. You can connect with PRINCE2 Training on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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