Whose Project is it anyway?

Actually, it’s yours. Yes, there might be a project or programme manager – and other project colleagues like business analysts or project officers – but once you are on the project team there is a collective responsibility to deliver. Whether you are a sponsor, a business stakeholder, or a team member assigned to represent your business area, you will have responsibilities as part of the project team.

However, it might not always be clear what those responsibilities are, and it is the job of the project or programme manager – and more experienced team members – to help and guide you, particularly if this is your first time on a project. Projects are a team effort and everyone has an important part to play.

Whether you join the project from the beginning or part of the way through, there will be some things that you need to know (and if you don’t get told, ask):

  • What is the purpose of the project; what problems will it solve, what are the key outputs, and what does success look like?
  • What is the project lifecycle; what are the project stages and/or phases and what are the timeframes? Are you involved all of the way through?
  • How will the project be managed on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis, e.g. project meetings, steering committees, etc.? What will your time commitment be?
  • What will you be responsible and accountable for; what activities do you need to undertake and what are your deadlines?

The activities you need to undertake might be wide-ranging – reading regulations, documenting business processes, specifying requirements or management information, providing subject matter expertise, and testing systems are all good examples. It is important that you are clear on everything that you will be involved in.

Every member of a project team should know what is expected of them, even if it takes a few weeks to make sure that the initial roles, responsibilities, and activities are all agreed upon and understood. They will also evolve as the project progresses, so the communication and clarification should never stop.

But my current role is already full-time!

Sometimes individuals are seconded to project teams on a full-time basis if the project is large enough, but more commonly project activities will be alongside your current role. That can be challenging because you will have responsibilities to your current role and to the project, both with activities that need to be done and with deadlines that need to be met. Managing both is one of the main challenges when you are working on a project.

Structure, planning, and management support (both project and line) maximise the chances of success. Once you understand the project meetings or workshops you need to attend and the activities you need to undertake, make your best estimate of how much time you need to allocate to the project. You are assessing whether you have sufficient time to meet your project responsibilities alongside the responsibilities of your day job.

If you do not believe that you sensibly can do both, then you need to discuss this as soon as possible with both your line manager and the project manager. Or maybe you feel that you don’t have the right skills and experience to fulfil the project role. Human nature and business pressure might mean that this is a difficult subject to raise, but you do not want to put either your day job or the project at risk. Perhaps the project manager can redistribute some project responsibilities to make it more manageable, or perhaps some of your day-to-day responsibilities can be backfilled. You won’t know until you ask or escalate your concerns.

For any project, you need the right project team members with the necessary skills, experience, and capacity. It is the responsibility of everyone on the project team to make sure that happens – and to be open and honest about where they can (and can’t) contribute to that.