Robert Kelly’s One Simple Thing: Roles & Responsibilities

Robert Kelly

(The following article is part of our One Simple Thing…to Improve Projects series. It was contributed by Robert Kelly. Robert is a Managing Partner of Kelly Project Solutions, Co-Founder of the #PMChat Community on Twitter, and author of his own blog Kelly’s Contemplation.

Robert is a certified PMP with over a decade of experience leading global projects at some of the largest financial services firms, the second largest PC manufacturer, and the largest provider of open source software. Robert can be found on Twitter at @rkelly976)


As I thought about Michael’s question “What’s one simple thing that can improve projects and/or project management?” I thought of communication, solid requirements, and value-added meetings.  Then I looked at what other folks were saying on the topic…. Andrew Budkiewicz mentioned a project management champion at the executive level, over at the #PMChat on LinkedIn Group.  Additionally, Kelly Kazimer and Lindsay Chaffee both provided some excellent posts on Time Valuation & Change Control, respectively.  After reviewing some of their insights and thinking more about some of the biggest headaches I have had to overcome, I finally settled on Roles & Responsibilities.  One thing is difficult!

Even with the economy forcing people to wear multiple hats, you would assume that the various functions would understand what they are responsible for….IT owns systems dev, legal owns Terms and Conditions, Marketing owns value prop and so on.  Unfortunately, many Project Managers find themselves on the other end of blank stares and the sound of crickets when asking about who will own the various work streams.

Image: A modified RACI chart

A modified RACI chart

Aside from the actual work being completed, many team members never truly understand what is expected of them from a communication, organization support, or collaborative perspective as a member of the project. It often seems as though they believe they are consultants or there as a courtesy.

Here are a few tips to help level-set the team and ensure they understand what is expected of them on the project.

1.  Most people have heard of a RACI/ARCI Chart…now use them!  Seriously, you need to document who is on the team and what their responsibilities are for the various deliverables. As with most things, this may evolve and needs to be revisited, but it has to be done early in the project. This will get some difficult conversations out of the way early and also gain the commitment BEFORE the workload becomes a reality and everyone begins looking for ways to ‘wiggle’ out.

2. In my experience, your project will have a resource assigned to represent their respective function with regards to approvals, capabilities, work effort, etc.  It is crucial that they understand their role in the communication plan for the project.  You never want agreement from Procurement in your project meeting and then walk into an Executive update and the VP of Global Procurement hearing the change request for the first time.  You need to ensure that the functional resources are each aware that part of their role and responsibilities as a member of the team is to regularly communicate with their respective managers and colleagues about the status of the project.  I get that you should have various project communications in-place, you should be networking, etc., but these folks have the relationships and are able to discuss concerns/politics more openly within their own team.  Their continued bi-directional communication between their function and the project team will help socialize the effort, gain adoption, and secure executive support. 

3. As the PM responsible for the overall success of the initiative, you will often walk the tight rope of doing the work yourself (where you can) or letting poor performers flop.  I know, everyone reading this is the perfect motivator and never has team members that don’t pull their weight…I am talking to the few that share this experience with me.  It is very important that you are clear in making sure that your team members understand they must attend meetings (tell them when…1 time per week at X:00 am), remain engaged throughout the initiative,  provide accurate estimates and updates, and so on.   This falls into the project logistics and basic blocking and tackling, so you would think it is common sense….trust me it is not.  If they own a work stream and require a design session, then they own coordinating that session.  You can be an optional attendee but are not responsible for driving every work stream.

Two of the most frustrating aspects of leading projects are hearing “That’s not my job” or “Oh, I didn’t know I was supposed to run with that”.  If you can clearly communicate roles and responsibilities to your teammates and gain their sign-off early in the project, then you will head-off a number of issues right out of the gate.  A strong start is absolutely crucial to the success of any project. Gaining momentum, trust, and establishing yourself as a strong leader will position you to do that.

Posted: December 20th, 2011 under One Simple Thing, Project Management.
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