Project Management Book

"A project is one small step for the project sponsor, one giant leap for the project manager."

Chapter 3 - Roles and Responsibilities          [index of chapters]

What makes projects such fun is that they are all different. And because they are all different each will need a unique project organisation.

If roles and responsibilities are not clear many problems will result:

So, before any project begins we must ensure amongst very many other things:

Conjure up in your mind a medium to large IT project (or another type of project if you wish). If you feel energetic, find a piece of paper and draw a project organisation chart.

Is yours anything like this one?

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Sample project organisation chart

Yours is probably quite different. Does that mean that yours is wrong? No, this isn't a methodology textbook. Indeed, there is no right answer: the organisation chart will be specific to your project.

Let us explore each of the roles in the example above and then consider some other possible project organisations.

One hopes your organisation chart at least had a Project Sponsor. Ever had the experience of asking a sponsor what his role is and getting a rather blank look by way of reply?

Role of Project Sponsor

The first thing to note is that on our chart the box at the top, Board, means Board of Directors (not project board). As far as the project is concerned the sponsor is top of the tree. But what is his role, what are his responsibilities?

How much work is involved in being a sponsor - how many days a month would it take? It should only be one or two days a month. If you think about it, there are some fairly heavy accountabilities on the list but not much day to day doing - that is delegated to the project manager. Of course it may be more than a day or so at the start or if major problems arise.

How many projects can one person sponsor at a time? Three or four, maybe five? But anything beyond that and the sponsor isn't going to be interested in, or even aware of, some of their projects and they become a name in a document and nothing more.

The trick is to have a sponsor who is senior enough to have the clout your project needs, but junior enough to be interested in your project if it's a small one. There could be several levels of director/manager in your company who can take on the role of project sponsor, the level of the sponsor for any given project depending upon factors such as the project's budget, criticality and the degree of cross-functional involvement. (If HR, Marketing, Engineering and IT are all heavily involved you'll probably need a senior person to be the sponsor.)

How would you feel about having several people acting as co-sponsors - good idea? No: you'd never know who was in charge. But imagine a project comes along and three members of the Board of Directors will benefit equally from it and they are each in effect paying one third of the project's budget. Rather than have 3 co-sponsors, one of the Directors becomes the sponsor. But if you were one of the other two Directors would you be happy to be shut out of the project altogether? Probably not: you'd want to see how it was going and to make sure your part of the business was getting a fair crack of the whip. We have just defined the project steering committee (sometimes known as the project board or even project review board).

Role of Project Steering Committee

Nominally the steering committee comprises the heads of those parts of the company (or companies) that are significantly involved in or affected by the project. So, if it's a large IT project for Marketing, perhaps the Marketing Director would be the sponsor and the IT Director would join him on the Steering Committee. In our example in the previous paragraph, the HR Director might have been the sponsor with the Finance Director and Logistics Director joining him on the steering committee, and let's assume the IT involvement isn't that great and therefore the IT Director will not be on this project's steering committee.

But who decides who should be on the steering committee? In some companies the Standards do! For example they might say there must be a sponsor, a senior customer and a senior supplier. So guess what? Every project has a 3 person steering committee (project board) whether it needs it or not. Who should decide who's on the steering committee? The sponsor should, but the project manager should make strong representations and suggest who would add value, who would actually help the project to succeed - that's why they're there, after all. Also agree with the sponsor when the steering committee should meet: the frequency may well vary during the project's life, and agree the mechanics of steering committee meetings: who will chair them (the sponsor), who presents what, etc.

A steering committee can be a menace: they squabble, cause delay by not making decisions, meddle in the detail - e.g. what colour the heading on a web page should be. (Sometimes called the bicycle shed syndrome: the company board have no strategic ideas or find them too difficult to grapple with so instead they have lengthy discussions about something they can understand - where to locate the bicycle shed.)

By contrast, a good steering committee can be a tremendous asset to a project.

What is the role of a member of the steering committee - what would you want them to do to help you, what would you want them not to do?

You would want them to:

But, as suggested above, you would not want them to:

Whose job is it to make sure the steering committee members understand their role? The project manager's. Book one-on-one meetings with each of the steering committee members and lay it on the line for them, make it very clear what their role is and what their role isn't. You, as project manager, might be a relatively junior person and you are now having to tell a senior manager or Director what their job is and what it isn't. This requires a bit of courage. It is not without reason that good project managers get paid a lot of money.

Does every project need a steering committee? Not really. If the whole effect of the project will be felt within the sponsor's empire he is almost by definition a one person steering committee. One can debate whether the project manager is on the steering committee or simply attends it. It doesn't matter. But the project manager clearly must be at steering committee meetings.

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