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Project teams, regardless of whether they use Waterfall, Scrum, Kanban, a combination of project management methodologies, or no method at all, need people on their teams who perform certain functions. The titles and some distinctive differences will vary from methodology to methodology. This blog attempts to outline three critical project roles and identify the important functions they play on your projects.

Project sponsor, knowledge manager, product manager, or product owner  – who is it?

The titles are not synonymous and I could write an entire blog on each of these roles. But in this blog, I want to focus on the common functions of each of these players that are essential on any project. Regardless of the title, someone on your project has to do these six things to ensure project success:

  • Approve the project plan
  • Acquire resources
  • Prioritize work
  • Ensure continued funding (whether it comes from management or a client)
  • Approve scope, budget, and schedule changes
  • Cancel the project in the event it loses its business value

Project manager, scrum master, or project leader – does it matter what we call people?

Titles vary, depending on the methodology you use to manage your projects. One of the challenges in project work is that frequently, the people on the project have other people that they report to. So, leading a project team of folks without any real management authority can be a bit like herding cats.

Most professionals are pretty familiar with the term “project manager” even if they aren’t quite sure what project managers do. The role of a project manager is to:

  • Work with the project team to plan, schedule, execute, manage, and close out projects.
  • Manage the business aspects on a project; including, but not limited to the budget, schedule, risks, lessons learned, and stakeholders.
  • Coach the team for better success.

There is a temptation to think that the only thing that project managers do is to manage the flow of tasks. That is certainly a big piece of what projects are all about, but don’t underestimate the importance of “managing” communications, money, problems, scope, changes, risks, people, and time.

The Client – and maybe your client is your boss?

Keeping the client engaged on project work is often challenging when company leaders have a gazillion things on their plate and there are lots of different pieces of technology at play (some of them more or less effective than others). If you are using Zendesk or some similar ticket type system to engage with clients, you may find that some of your clients just don’t like engaging with it, and prefer to email, call, or text you. Keeping the documentation in any one software tool can be tough.

If the work you are doing is in-house work, then management functions a bit like your client. There are important functions that the client plays:

  • Create the idea for the project.
  • Help the project manager clarify the vision behind the project.
  • Work with the project manager to develop the scope of work.
  • Stay engaged with the project manager and provide feedback.
  • Provide funding.

Complex projects don’t go from start to finish without a concerted team effort. It takes different people providing different kinds of assistance to successfully develop and execute complex projects.

Complex projects don’t go from start to finish without a concerted team effort. Click To Tweet

There is often overlap on the many functions that people in your organization provide; on complex projects, it can get overwhelming. One secret tip for organizing and clarifying the roles that people play on your project is to develop a responsibility matrix, like the one in the picture above. This minimizes confusion and ensures that everyone understands their many important functions on the project. It’s easier to enjoy the project ride when everyone understands their role.

Want some other project tips? Check out our free ebook on Project Management Tips That Will Make Your Client Happy. And, if you don’t do work for clients, think about your management as your client.