Use standard roles to avoid confusion on projects

One of the important responsibilities of the project manager is make sure you know who is fulfilling the roles on your project. This column describes some of the common roles on projects.

All projects have people that perform different roles and responsibilities. On small projects, understanding the roles is pretty easy. There's a project management, sponsor, and project team.

As your project gets larger, however, there is generally more confusion about who is in each role. You also need more specialty roles in order to focus on certain areas of responsibility. Not understanding who is in what roles is a major headache for larger projects. One of the important responsibilities of the project manager is make sure you know who is fulfilling these roles on your project. This column describes some of the common roles on projects.

Client(s). These are the people (or groups) that are the direct beneficiaries of the products (or deliverables) that the project produces. They are the people for whom the project is being undertaken. In some organizations these people are called customers.

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Project Director. This is the person who is the functional manager of the project manager. However, this role recognizes that in most organizations, the project manager is not totally responsible for a project. Typically, the functional manager of the project manager has a role to play as well. This role includes helping to provide resources, helping resolve difficult issues, dealing with organizational politics, etc.

Project Manager. This is the person with authority to manage a project. This includes leading the planning and the development of all project deliverables. The project manager is responsible for managing the budget, workplan, and all Project Management Procedures.

Project Team. The project team consists of the full-time and part-time resources assigned to work on the deliverables of the project. They are responsible for understanding the work to be completed and completing assigned work within the budget, timeline, and quality expectations.

Sponsor (Executive Sponsor and Project Sponsor). The sponsor is the person who has ultimate authority over the project. The Executive Sponsor provides project funding, resolves issues and scope changes, approves major deliverables, and provides high-level direction. He or she also champions the project within his or her organization. Depending on the project, and the organizational level of the Executive Sponsor, he or she may delegate day-to-day tactical management to a Project Sponsor. If assigned, the Project Sponsor represents the Executive Sponsor on a day-to-day basis and makes most of the decisions requiring sponsor approval. While the project manager is responsible for the success of the project execution, the sponsor is responsible for delivering business benefit to the organization.

Stakeholder. These are the specific person or people with a stake, or an interest, in the outcome of the project. Normally stakeholders are from within the company and could include internal clients, management, employees, administrators, etc. A project may also have external stakeholders, including suppliers, investors, constituents, community groups and government organizations.

Users. These are the people who will actually use the deliverables of the project. Sometimes these people are also involved heavily in the project in activities such as defining business requirements and being involved in the testing process.