How to Manage a Project

Project Management

Project Organisation


Project Organisation Map

Getting clarity of responsibilities in project management is absolutely key. In most organisations projects cross traditional organisational boundaries and in the process responsibilities can become diffuse - the chain of command can be unclear. When this happens, communications can be chaotic and the activities needed just do not take place.

The concept of a Project Manager was introduced to try to resolve this, which it did to some extent. At that time, project organisation focussed mainly on the Project Manager and the team and on the internal issues of managing the project. However, gradually it became recognised that although most projects had some internal issues, the key ones were external ones due to changes and developments in the overall organisation structure, factors external to the enterprise, or other initiatives underway in the organisation, etc.

In such situations a Project Manager would often either get distracted by the external pressures and lessen their control of the internal issues, or ignore them until a crisis arose.

As a result, several organisations settled on idea that the leadership of a project often requires two roles;

This is now accepted a current practice in most organisations involved in projects, and a typical project organisation contains the elements depicted in the above chart.

Project Manager

The Project Manager has day-to-day responsibility for management of the project. The prime role is to ensure that the project as a whole produces the required outputs and outcomes, within the timescales and resources available.

Key tasks may include:

Project Sponsor

The Project Sponsor looks after the project on behalf of the organisation. In that sense is responsible for ensuring that the project achieves the expected outcomes and benefits, and that it is completed within the terms of reference. For some projects this may require a very active role, for others it may focus on being available to support and help the Project Manager when required. For some projects the sponsor can be a single individual, for some it is the line manager of the Project Manager, for others it may be a group - a project board.

 Key tasks may include:
  What the Project Sponsor does!
  What the Project Manager does!
  • Sets Parameters/Objectives
  • Provides Backing/Support
  • Helps to secure Resources
  • "Recruits" Project Manager
  • Champions the project
  • Accountability for Results
  • Authority (clout) to maintain momentum
  • Key decisions if environment/context changes
  • Interrelationship with other projects
  • Remedial action at senior level
  • Balancing a programme of projects
  • Deliver! make things happen.
  • Day-to-day management
  • Sets Milestones
  • Produces project plan, etc.
  • Reviews progress
  • Communicates progress
  • Builds & Leads Team
  • Utilises Resources Manages Resources
  • Horizontal scan across other projects etc.
  • Put in place remedial action
  • Employs sponsor if problems beyond remit.

Project Board

For some projects, a project board is needed, either to act as the Project Sponsor or to support/steer the sponsor. This is particularly true in major capital and IT projects where the Board is formed to represent at managerial level the business, user and supplier interests of the project and provide overall direction and guidance to the project. Key points are:

Steering Group

For some projects, particularly politically sensitive policy ones, a Steering Group reporting to the Project Sponsor can be valuable. The Steering Group is usually formed from key stakeholders affected by the project (e.g. service users, special interests groups, representative groups) whose input relating to the project outcomes is essential but who could distract the project if they were directly in the chain of command.

Reference or Advisory Groups

To some extent these can fulfil a similar role to that of a Steering Group except that it is clearly a much more advisory role, probably with less influence. Often they are formed by and report to the Project Manager rather than the Project Sponsor.

Project Team

People who are significantly involved in the project on a regular basis, and who may be involved in key contributions or decisions about the project outputs, strategy or tactics. Common issues here revolve around their commitment and the time that they can invest in the project, particularly if they are involve in other projects or in day to day work.


People who are required to make a contribution at some stage in the project but who are not likely to be involved on a regular basis. Examples include statisticians, lawyers, IT specialists, contractors, HR specialists, and trainers. Since they often work on several other projects at the same time, common issues revolve around their availability and ability to deliver their contribution at the time it is needed.

Key Points are:

  1. As general rules to designing a project organisation
    • the simpler the better.
    • try for a sound balance between ensuring delivery to time and ensuring quality outputs and outcomes
    • to do this try to ensure an effective "chain of command" with delegations to ensure delivery, and at the same time ensure a sensible involvement of stakeholders - sufficient to provide a forum for their knowledge and views, not so much that they disrupt the delivery.
    • Ensure that all players know what their role is and what it is not. Try to use titles for groups and individuals that really reflect their contribution.
  2. Some project management methodologies are very prescriptive regarding the project organisational structure to be used - PRINCE2 falls under this category.
  3. Organisations for whom projects is a major portion of their work usually develop their own standard framework for project organisation. Thus, in one organisation whose work falls under programmes, the Programme Manager is invariably the Project Sponsor for any projects that fall under that programme.
  4. In many projects, there either is no Sponsor, or the Sponsor is not clear what their role is, or the Sponsor moves position and no replacement is found. The experienced Project Manager then tries to create a new Sponsor, knowing that although the lack of one may not be an immediate problem, it is likely to be one in the near future as situations change.