PMI – the superior standard for project roles

The superior standard for project roles

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Every customer wants to get the best possible results from a project. In reality, however, the desired project success often does not materialise – despite numerous methods, tools and processes that provide support. And despite the willingness of all those involved to make their contribution to a positive result. What are the reasons for this and which new and proven approaches can have a lasting effect in this context and help to prepare for the future market of project management successfully? The answer from experienced experts is clear: project success requires a standard and a holistic understanding of all roles and their interfaces, which must also be actively lived.

A successful project requires a transparent distribution of tasks and roles. Therefore, there are different project roles for specific topics. A core problem in the project initiation phase is that clients often cannot (yet) clearly define which functions are needed at all. Furthermore, it is not least due to the understanding of roles, how well a role is fulfilled in the current project. It is, therefore, worth taking a closer look at the project roles and clearly defining and differentiating them from each other to create a shared understanding. The PMI standard serves as a framework for the examination.

The model of “project roles” according to the Project Management Institute (PMI) provides a standardised project organisation with defined tasks, competencies and responsibilities. This standard forms the framework for A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). Its use has proven to be “best practice” for most projects. It facilitates communication between the people involved and reduces misunderstandings about responsibilities and competencies. What is behind the defined roles according to the standard PMI PMBOK® Guide, and what are the consequences for action?

The roles of the project levels portfolio, program and project management

According to PMI, these are the three hierarchical levels of a project that can be considered central.

A portfolio is defined as programs, projects, sub-portfolios and program processes and operational procedures that are managed in a coordinated manner to achieve the strategic goals. At the top level, the Portfolio Manager provides centralised management of one or more portfolios to achieve the strategic objectives of an organisation and ensures optimal allocation of human, financial and physical resources. The Program Manager acts at the next level, coordinating and managing related projects and subordinate programs and program operations.

The Project Manager or Project Leader at the next level three, determines the procedure, plans, coordinates, monitors and controls the project process, the project team or the project as a whole. Depending on the challenge that is currently being faced, he or she slips into different roles: He is a change manager, team manager, communicator, conflict solver, coach, temporary boss, master strategist and, if necessary, crisis manager. For each role or sub role at his level, he determines the required number of people with the required qualifications, defines which areas of responsibility fall under the respective role and fills them. He reports on the progress of the project to the client and project committee, ensures communication with the stakeholders and carries out procurements—appropriate risk and quality management round off his tasks.

The PMI standard describes in great detail the skills a project manager needs. The PMI Talent Triangle® focuses on three essential areas of competence:

  • Technical project management
  • Leadership
  • Strategic and business management

PMI suggests that project managers need to have a balance of these three skills. They must understand and master the “multi-role principle” in this position. If an overwhelming majority of all failed projects fail not because of excessive technical demands but because of the lack of social competence of the project manager, it becomes clear that the success of a project stands or falls with the overall qualification of a project manager.

Portfolio, Program and Project Manager are in an intensive exchange. This is to ensure that strategies and priorities are interlinked so that better performance, results and a sustainable competitive advantage are achieved.

Each of these three project levels is assigned additional roles with clearly defined responsibilities.

Transformation Manager, Developer, rollout und Transition Manager – the watchmen and experts in the project

The Transformation Manager plays an equally important role. As a rule, located between portfolio management and company and takes on a kind of global role in the project. As a higher-level instance, the transformation manager controls the transition from one system to another, alternating between and acting on all project levels.

The Sub-Project Managers and Project Team Members are located at the project management level. They support the project manager. Partial Project Managers are specialists and take responsibility for a defined area of the overall project that can be delegated. Their tasks are analogous to those of the project manager – they also act as change managers.

Project members take on many different roles within a project. They are also experts in specific areas. What they all have in common, however, is the task of implementing defined work packages. Depending on the job, they are deployed as Developers, Rollout Managers or Transition Managers.

The role term “developer” can mean both product developers and IT developers. He or she drafts designs and builds the product or system according to the requirements of the end-users. Depending on the complex problem of project importance of a task area, the role of the developer can be divided into sub-rules. Examples of developer sub rules are: Business Information Systems Specialist, Analyst, Organizer, Programmer, Data Administrator, Database Specialist, Security Specialist, and Network Technician The developer analyses the problems, is in close contact with the customer regarding his requirements and specifications, searches, designs, creates technical and application-related solutions and finally realises ready-to-use solutions and systems. Transition and rollout managers implement them and see how end users work with the new system and intervene to adjust problems. Many projects also require targeted support from other specialists: consultants, planning specialists, financial experts, specialists in profitability calculations, methodologists and security specialists are examples of other specialists who are often only deployed temporarily.

The Project Office, on the other hand, provides support in the administration and organisation of the project. This role should not be confused with the unique character of the Project Management Office (PMO). The latter, like the Transformation Manager, is located outside the project and administers all running topics and, if necessary, their resources as a traffic control center.

Sponsor, Project Committee and end user

According to PMI, the roles of Sponsor (client), project committee and end-user (customer) are declared to be above the levels of portfolio, program and project management. They can be found on the top-level – the company.

The Sponsor is the one who wants the project result and who accepts the project in the end. As the project principal, he or she coordinates the assignment, commissions the project and appoints the project manager. Furthermore, he defines the project goals, strategies, priorities, the cost and deadline framework and the organisational framework with the Project Manager. He also initiates, controls, monitors and bears overall strategic responsibility – but at a company level. The client thus has the ultimate decision-making authority for the project.

As the client, the Sponsor must develop an overall understanding of the entire project development process and, in particular, actively shape and perform his role. Successful project management requires a permanent relationship between Sponsor, transformation manager and project manager. The Sponsor is an essential representative of the project interests to the outside world and always intervenes actively in the project when the personal authority and competence of the project manager is no longer sufficient. If the project sponsor is composed of different groups of people, a project or steering committee is formed. However, the Sponsor must be a member of this steering committee and usually chairs it.

The Project Committee anchors the project in its organisation and takes on a more external and neutral function. In the course of the project conclusion, it formally accepts the project results and releases the project manager from his tasks and duties.

The End User or customer is often confused with the Sponsor. His role, however, includes completely different responsibilities. As the customer first determines all documents for preparation of economic efficiency concerning costs and benefits of the existing and future overall system from the perspective of the end-user. He formulates end-user-related requirements, checks the results created by developers and expresses change requests. The customer carries out pre-acceptance as well as the acceptance of the developed product and further supports the introduction of the system.

The PMI role standard – holistically conceived

The role scenario makes it clear: no role is worth more or more important than others. The project goal can only be achieved with effective and efficient collaboration. The development of an adequate standard for project organisation with all its roles, tasks and responsibilities according to PMI is a foundation for the success of every project because it can bring decisive competitive advantages. The more hierarchies are involved in a project, the more useful it is to introduce a holistic role standard. Only when responsibilities are defined razor-sharp and timelines are bindingly clarified and committed to compliance can it be ensured that the project result meets the client’s expectations, delivers the desired benefits and the project is completed on time. If everyone knows to whom they have to report, who makes which decisions and who may give which “orders”, transparency is created for all those involved. And this speeds up project execution many times over. Experienced experts like those at EVOSULT will help you to define and implement such a role standard according to PMI.

Georgia Fuhrmann

Autor: Georgia Fuhrmann
Senior Key Account Manager

Georgia Fuhrmann