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Right from our school days, we have been hearing about projects (Science projects, Math projects, group projects – remember?). Then you have something as big as NASA’s InSight Mission (To study the interior of Mars). This is also called a project.
So, how exactly does one define a project?
Though there are innumerable variations within, a project is a task that needs to be completed. If NASA calls its mission a project, it is because it wants to achieve a certain goal. If a teacher gives a project to a student, he/she wants the student to complete an assignment. When we hear about projects in the context of companies, it has the similar meaning. It is that of accomplishing a defined goal.
And, of course, projects don’t get done by themselves. We need people to carry them out. This is where project managers and project management team come into the picture. When we look at the project management life-cycle, there are many people and groups involved. They help in designing, developing and delivering the goals set out in the project. The objective of this article is to define the roles and responsibilities of a project manager as well as the project management team.
A project manager is a person who is responsible for leading the project. In other words, project managers are the spearheads of a project. They ensure that the project is completed within the specified deadline and gets delivered to the client without any flaws. He/she handles all the aspects of the project from project initiation to project delivery.
To put it simply, he is the champion of the project. He provides the vision of the project to his team members and keeps their focus firmly fixed on the same. He/she is that person who ultimately gets praised for the success of the project or discredited for the failure of it. The project manager is accountable for the fate of a project.
A project team is a group of individuals teamed together. Their purpose is to achieve a specific business task or goal. The project teams can be created on a temporary basis or for a very long duration. The duration can range from a week to few years. These skilled individuals can be either from different functional areas or a similar one. Further, a company can create a team out of the existing employees or can hire new people to manage the project. A project manager is also an integral part of the project team. The team and the manager collectively together contribute to the success of the project.
Let us now look at the responsibilities of the project manager followed by those of the team members.
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The responsibilities of a project manager can vary from organization to organization. Sometimes, they may even change depending on the project need. But across companies, there are some core responsibilities that most project managers handle. What are those? Read below:
‘Plan your work and work your plan’ – Napoleon Hill
As mentioned, the whole purpose of running a project is to achieve a certain goal. Hence, creating a roadmap or planning beforehand is an essential role of project managers. Further, your plan is what determines whether you get an approval for a project or not.
So, what exactly does planning involve? Planning addresses each of the following questions:
What tasks need to be completed?
Who is to complete these tasks?
By when should these tasks be completed?
In this phase, the project manager defines the project scope and accordingly develops a project plan and schedule. He or she develops efficient procedures and policies so that the project is delivered to the customer. This is done keeping in mind the specified time and the given budget. Additionally, planning involves determining the resources (human, financial etc.) available. It also takes into factor the time that is needed to complete the project.
Don’t be under the misunderstanding that planning happens only at the beginning of the project. Planning is something that goes on throughout the course of the project. In fact, a good project manager is someone who is dynamic enough to modify the plan according to the changing circumstances.
Once the project manager has a blueprint about how to execute the project, what does he do next? Implement the plan, of course. First up is the key responsibility of organizing. To put it simply, it is about giving a structure to the project team. While doing so, the project manager takes into account the existing structure followed by the organization.
Organizing is about assigning roles to the team members and setting deadlines to achieve targets. This step also includes briefing the members about tools that they can use. Let’s say the project involves outsourcing some requirements. Then, the project manager identifies the services to be provided, the company that provides these services etc.
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Leading is that broad role which can accommodate all the other roles of a project manager. Hence, it can be considered the most important responsibility of project managers.
The project manager has to take the lead right from the word go. He/she must coordinate with different people to ensure that the project goes on in a smooth manner. He/she needs to keep a regular check on the project developments. Managers ensure that the project team members are meeting the deadlines and following the guidelines. He/she regularly conducts meetings and makes that the team members do the follow-up actions.
To lead is also to make decisions at every stage of the project progress. Which tasks are to be given to which team member? Should the project be terminated as it exceeds certain resource thresholds? A project manager is responsible to think about such wide-ranging issues and make decisions. Also, the project manager has to build his knowledge about the technical issues associated with the project.
Apart from the technical aspects, leading also includes interpersonal skills. Project managers need to demand excellence from their team members and help them in their personal development. Also, hiccups are quite common in projects. The project manager is expected to motivate team members during the down phase and keep their morale high. Essentially, a project manager is the leader who the team members look up to. Therefore, managing people becomes the key element of project management.
Project managers need to be constantly on their toes and have to ensure that the project is on the right track. This means they will have to ensure that the resources are being used efficiently. Also, they have to see to it that the project will be completed within the time-frame. To help this step, many project managers use the following three-step controlling process
Measure: Keep a strict vigil on the progress of the project
Evaluate: Determine the root causes of deviations
Correct: Make appropriate corrections to address the issue of deviation
Monitoring in this sense doesn’t have the traditional meaning of imposing decisions from above. Projects now happen through collaboration between the project manager and the team members. So, rather than dictating what needs to be done, monitoring is accomplished by the contribution from the project team members.
One cannot emphasize enough the importance of communication in the success of a project. It is so significant that many surveys show that project managers spend 90 percent of their time on communicating. How successfully does the project manager perform all the mentioned roles depends on his ability to communicate? It distinguishes a successful project manager from an average one.
When we talk about communication, it doesn’t involve just the team members. The project manager also has to interact with various people. It includes the project sponsors, clients, external vendors and other important stakeholders. A lot of decisions are made during the course of the project. And, all this requires the project member to communicate with the key people higher up in the chain of command.
But, the most part of communication usually happens between the project manager and the team members. He/she shares the vision and objectives of the project with the team members. Project managers also give and take regular updates from team members and conduct status meeting etc,. But, it doesn’t end with his or her communication. He/she also needs to take on the role of empowering his/her team members to share or exchange information.
Projects rarely run smoothly. As such, risk is an inevitable part of a project. So, managing these uncertain conditions which can have a negative impact on the project is a critical role of a project manager. It is so important that Project Management Institute's PMBOK indicates risk management as one of the key knowledge areas. It means a project manager should show competency in this area to get certified.
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Managing risk involves identifying potential threats or positive developments. The risks could be in the form of a probability of a key team member resigning from the job or a sponsor suddenly pulling out of the project. Next is the job of developing a course of action in case the risk plays out. It involves various responses such as looking for alternatives, estimating the cost of other solutions etc.
Risk management also involves communicating. The project manager needs to inform the team members and other stakeholders about the risks. It also includes, in some cases, assigning the task of handling a specific risk to a certain team member. If he/she doesn’t optimize the risk, it is the job of the project manager to hold the person responsible. Finally, the role of the project manager is to make sure that the risk response is implemented as envisioned.
The members of the project management team also have certain responsibilities. The priority is to carry out the tasks assigned to them by their project manager. Further, the members need to communicate to the project manager the task progress. In case, there are any changes/issues, they are expected to immediately inform their leader.
In case, the team member has been taken into the team as an ‘expert’ in some area. Then, he or she is expected to show initiative and not wait for the project manager to guide them even on small tasks. What if the team members do not get along with each other? It can lead to delays and, in worst case scenarios, to the failure of the entire project. Hence, they need to work with the other team members and treat them with cordial respect.
If it is a huge project, then some members act as team leads and provide help to the team members. In this way, there would be better coordination among team members. Also, the project can be delivered to the client on time without any delays.
For a project to be successful, it requires a complete team effort. The roles and responsibilities assigned to the team members could be small or huge. But, at the end of the day, every role and responsibility matters as it’s a collective team effort. It is this effort that drives project on the success path. Project manager and project management team are like two facets of a coin. Hence, for the project to be successful, both project manager and the team need to work as an efficient team.
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