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Understanding project roles to build better teams

Last updated

22 February 2024

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Mary Mikhail

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Across industries, every member of a project team plays a valuable role. Team members are the glue that holds a project together, bringing it across the finish line and helping grow your bottom line. Everyone's contribution matters. Most teams follow the same basic structure and contain similar roles.

A project team (a group of people working on the same project) should understand not only the project goals but also their unique role within the team. From the project manager to the business analyst, when your team members thoroughly understand their roles and responsibilities, the project is more likely to be completed on time and successfully.

This guide breaks down the definition of a project team, including some key project-team roles and their responsibilities.

What is a project team?

A project team is a group of employees brought together to work on a project. While the exact breakdown of every project team will vary based on the organization and team member availability, most project teams include roles for:

  • Overall project management

  • Development

  • Implementation

Project teams should be put together with care and consideration. Employees with diverse skill sets who work together toward a common goal tend to produce the best work. By creating a well-rounded, productive project team, your project is more likely to be completed to schedule and budget.

Five key project team roles and responsibilities

There are five major project team roles in most groups. While the specific names for these roles might vary depending on the requirements of your organization, the responsibilities will be similar.

Project sponsor

A project sponsor is responsible for driving the vision of the project or initiative. This is typically someone at a senior management level. The project sponsor is accountable for the completion and success of the project, regularly providing resources, encouragement, and guidance to other members of the team from start to finish.

Project manager (or leader)

As the name suggests, project managers, also known as project leaders, are responsible for planning, organizing, overseeing, and reporting during all phases of the project. A project manager helps keep the project on schedule while communicating with other team members to ensure they have the necessary resources to complete their tasks successfully.

A few specific tasks a project manager might handle are:

  • Defining the scope of the project

  • Planning and delegating tasks

  • Managing changes or roadblocks as they arise

  • Documenting the project's progress

The project manager often communicates with project stakeholders to update them on progress, though this specific task might fall to the project sponsor.

Resource manager

A resource manager is vital for large-scale projects, especially ones involving contractors and supply companies. They are in charge of resource allocation and use.

A resource manager can also help match the right person to the right role within the project team, matching skills and abilities with the needs of the project to ensure a well-rounded team.

Business analyst

A business analyst is in charge of the data required for a project. An analyst will work on:

  • Determining the organization's operational and technical needs and requirements

  • Assigning priorities

  • Verifying that deliverables match the requirements set at the start of the project

Additionally, a business analyst on a project team will analyze the data as it comes in and document it to share with stakeholders and other team members.

Project team member (or project delivery team)

The project delivery team is composed of individual contributors assigned to different project tasks. By participating in meetings, reporting issues during the project, working on tasks, and more, project team members help carry the initiative to completion.

Project team members don't have to be full-time employees or involved in a project on a full-time basis. These people are the heart and soul of the project, bringing a variety of skills to drive the engine of the work.

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Other roles in a project team

The five roles outlined above tend to be the most common in a project team, but other roles can be equally important.

Some industries have specific roles based on project methodologies. Regardless of the roles within your project team, always define the specific responsibilities and roles that go along with the title so everyone has a clear understanding of who will be doing what.

Consider these other roles for your project team and incorporate them when it makes sense.

Project coordinator

This person is a go-between for the project manager and the rest of the team. This role can be extremely helpful for remote work, or when employees work in different time zones.

A project coordinator might be responsible for monitoring the daily or weekly progress of a project and providing updates to the defined stakeholders, managing deadlines and workflow, and scheduling meetings and other appointments.

Project management consultant

Sometimes, a project requires outside expertise. A project management consultant is one such expert, a third-party individual who is brought on to help a company with a specific initiative.

Duties of a project management consultant might include:

  • Troubleshooting potential issues or bottlenecks

  • Offering expertise in areas that other team members aren't familiar with

  • Working directly with the project manager to outline a strategy

Steering committee

For large-scale projects or initiatives in big companies, a steering committee is relatively common. A steering committee usually involves company management and/or senior-level stakeholders.

The steering committee’s duties include:

  • Overseeing the project

  • Providing guidance when necessary

  • Ensuring the initiative aligns with the strategic long-term goals of the company

Subject matter expert

If your project requires in-depth knowledge of a specific subject or industry, the team could benefit from the services of a subject matter expert. This person advises project teams on a subject or technical area to improve processes and assist the team in meeting project goals. 

The subject matter expert might be a third-party consultant hired from outside the company or brought in from a different department within the organization.

Benefits of defining project team roles

There are many reasons why you should define project team roles from the start. Defining roles and responsibilities can improve accountability, providing team members with goals to refer to and work toward as the project moves along. This clarity can also create a strong sense of teamwork, especially for teams that work remotely or in different departments.

Additionally, you might improve productivity when you take the time to define everyone's role and responsibilities. Enhanced productivity doesn't just benefit the company. It supports and enhances employee experience, which can lead to greater job satisfaction and longevity within a company.

Well-defined responsibilities also lessen the risk of interpersonal conflict and hurt feelings. They help keep your team on track as they work toward project completion or product development.

A 2023 report from Harvard Business Review notes that high-performing teams tend to have one thing in common: every person on the team possesses a distinct set of knowledge, skills, and abilities along with individual tasks and responsibilities, and each team member understands exactly how their own expertise and job duties contribute to the bigger picture. The report further notes that this common understanding can lead to:

  • Enhanced overall team intelligence

  • Improved decision-making

  • A greater sense of psychological safety

In short, you can't afford not to clearly define team roles. Providing a clear breakdown of roles and responsibilities at the outset of a project benefits everyone in the company, not just the team members.

Best practices when putting together a project team

Putting together a project team can take time and patience. Depending on your organization's goals and the specifics of the project, you may have a tight timeline or a more fluid outline of when the team should be brought together.

These best practices can help you assemble an effective, productive team and ensure your initiative is completed on time and to specifications.

Set project goals

To give your team something to work toward, clearly define goals at the outset. Talk to stakeholders to establish these goals and share them with the team from the get-go.

Allow for questions and concerns, and take your team's comments into account as you refine the final project objectives.

Build a cross-functional team

Decide what skills and abilities your team needs, and consider what departments will be involved in the final project team.

Most projects require multiple departments working together to achieve a common goal. This ensures a diversified team with a variety of skills and abilities.

Design a communication plan

Communication is one of the most important parts of any project team. The goal is to have your project team, which can involve multiple departments, working together with clear communication.

It's a good idea to set a cadence for regular status updates and project meetings, so everyone can stay on track and know what everyone else is working on.

Clearly communicate expectations

If members of your team don't know what's expected of them, your project is already off to a poor start. Clearly define expectations up front, sharing:

  • Clear boundaries

  • Key tasks

  • Steps to take if something goes wrong

It's a good idea to put these expectations into a document, so your project team can refer to it if they need a refresher.

Use project management software

It can be hard to keep everyone on track, even with an experienced project manager. Using project management software can keep your team aligned and motivated without endless meetings. With project management software, you can plan the scope of work and easily track project progress.

In summary

Creating a strong project team doesn’t happen by chance. It requires a wise management approach, a willingness to listen to other points of view, and the assistance of strong leaders.

Don't rush through the process of building a project team, and involve other stakeholders and project contributors whenever possible.

FAQs

What are the four main roles of a project manager?

A project manager is one of the most important members of any team. They may be responsible for a variety of tasks, depending on the specifics of the project. The four main roles of a project manager are: planning the project according to the company's vision, managing the resources involved in the project, managing the project itself, and motivating the project team.

What is the role of the PMO in planning?

The PMO, or project management office, helps establish and maintain the expectations for project management. This includes guidelines and standards that can help project managers and other members of the management team keep the initiative on track and on schedule. The project management office works with project managers and other company stakeholders.

Can required project roles vary from project to project?

Required roles can vary greatly from project to project. When defining a role at the outset of a new project, clearly communicate the expectations and tasks that fall under each person’s remit. Make sure the tasks associated with the role align with their title, and listen to team members’ concerns or questions as you define those parameters.

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