Defining Better Roles and Responsibilities

5 March 2013 | By Catherine Wheatcroft

The importance of knowing who is in charge of what and their responsibilities within that role has always been of importance within the organisational structure. But this is even more important when we are dealing with multi £million projects.

But do we go far enough with defining roles and responsibilities or just scratch the surface; we know whom the project manager, sponsor and team members are, so that will be fine? Should we really be defining more roles within the project team and what benefits are there in doing this?

So lets first explore what roles should be defined for such large-scale projects, why and what the responsibilities of the role should be. I am confident in writing that every project currently being undertaken will have a project manager at its helm. This person will work with the project sponsor to create a definition of the project. Once the project fundamentals and terms and conditions have been agreed, the project is handed to the project manager to deliver on time, to budget and to the required quality standards. To achieve this, the project manager will ensure the project is effectively resourced and manages relations between all parties involved. Also not to be forgotten is the role that the project manager takes in maintaining a co-operative and motivated team. Other key fundamentals that fall under the project manager’s remit usually include:
Recruitment of staff and consultants
Developing and maintaining the project plan
Managing project deliverables
Managing change control
Monitoring project progress and performance
Reporting back on progress to key stakeholders

The role of the project manager is vast and it would seem that most projects are run very much reliant on this defined role.

There is then the project sponsor, the person who commissions everyone else to deliver the project and act as the project champion throughout. This will be someone senior who has a vested interest in the projects success; given that they may be affected by the project outcome. They will define the project from the start and ensure that it is actively reviewed as it progresses.

Being accountable for the delivery of planned benefits associated with the project, the sponsor will no doubt be leaning on the project manager to get things right and ensure issues are resolved quickly. But sponsors should take responsibility for communicating the programme’s goals to the rest of the organisation. They have ultimate authority and responsibility for the project, so will approve budgets and decide tolerances.

A management team working directly under and with the sponsor should be a given on large projects that cross-functional boundaries. The management team should also champion the project to drive and manage change through the organisation and create awareness. They play a critical role in communication too, when you consider that they should play a key role in resolving strategic issues and be prioritising goals and resources with other on-going projects.

On smaller projects this team may not be relevant, but the responsibilities of this team do need to be appropriated to someone nether the less.

One area that is sometimes overlooked or bolted on to the project manager’s role is that of the role of managing supplier input to the project. Managing the entire supplier relations and activities ensures that mandatory supplier requirements are met. A lack of attention in this area will have negative knock on affects on the project if resources are not utilised, performance is not tracked, communication paths are not clear enough, the finances are not controlled, the work is not continually quality assured, and project knowledge is not transferred between teams.

The bulk of the team are collectively referred to as the project team and these individuals work on the project until it is delivered. There will be varying roles within this team but generally they are a group of individuals assembled to perform activities that contribute towards achieving the overall goal. The project team should consist of skilled workers from different function areas. They will provide the functional expertise, ensure the project meets business needs and make the project ‘happen’.

Again, for larger projects there will be a need for a project co-ordinator to maintain plans, records, websites and reporting. For the detail of the plan and project to work and flow, there needs to be procedures and policies in place. These do not just happen, they need to be managed and support functions created for planning, tracking, reporting, quality management and communications. This also may well come under the project managers remit, but then we might wonder why simple mistakes take place and communication breaks down. The project manager simply cannot do everything!

Depending on the type and size of the project, there may be specific roles defined for specialisms or more technical projects. This could include a programme manager to co-ordinate several related projects, a system administrator to manage and support IT related environments or a systems developer for specialist requirements in hardware.

The point is that we may think that that the project sponsor, project manager, some senior management and the project team will be sufficient. But do organisations really think this through at the planning stage; is there enough budget and resource to make the project happen really?

For smaller projects it might be okay to run with a smaller team, but this is only the case if everything else is in place and there is a smooth flow of work, communication lines, planning complete and defined rules. In truth this is rarely the case and projects have been implemented with the same paperwork, methods and practices for years. There is no review of this, no question of whether it is right and certainly no understanding of whether changes could improve deliverance and standards overall.

Larger projects that are multi-dimensional, involving many teams and personnel and suppliers may have a better handle on this. I would still consider though that there is always room for improvement to avoid costly mistakes. Are the communications between the organisation and suppliers really up to scratch? Are the reporting lines totally effective? Does the hierarchy work effectively? Does whoever controls the budget filter this down to those that are using or wasting it? Do we care about the detail enough or just need to get the project done?

All these questions pose in my mind the feeling that more could be done to improve projects by having enough resource for enough areas. Those resources could have clearer goals and responsibilities, which in turn would naturally create improved methods and workflow. Surely this would contribute towards bottom line profits and best practice?

Perhaps now is the time for businesses invest some time and thought into how they could improve projects with clearer, defined roles and responsibilities.