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Who Owns the Project?
By Mark L. Reed

Wahoo! – You got the project! Congratulations are in order, but after the immediate euphoria, reality soon rears its sometimes ugly head:

  • Time and cost of your project have been dictated for strategic reasons.
  • The objectives seem subjective and you are not sure what they truly mean.
  • The objectives seem subjective and you are not sure what they truly mean. It seems everyone wants to get their own objectives into your action, but without them taking any responsibility or ownership for the time and cost involved.
  • Someone else has picked your team and no one reports to you as an employee, just as a functional team member and you will be held accountable for the quality of their work.
  • You have been asked to save money at every turn of the project so face-to-face communication is out of the question. I.e.: you have to use the dreaded e-mail.

It has been succinctly explained to you by your boss that you now have the ultimate position of responsibility to the successful completion of the project and not to let the organization down.

OK – sounds real, but I need to ask you a question. Who owns your new project?

Certainly it’s not you, is it? Was the project your idea on the get-go? Did you dictate the time, cost and/or objectives to yourself? Heck no – the committees within the organization did. I would say you own the job of managing the work of the project, but certainly not the time, cost and objectives of the project. So if the project fails, who fails? The organization? The Sponsor? Your boss? The User Community? You?

Our first thought is “all of the above”, but reality has already dictated the outcome. You will be held responsible and accountable for the successful or unsuccessful outcome of the project, unless someone else accepts ownership of the project. Again, you own the job of managing the work of the project as the Project Manager, but a Project Customer must own your project’s time, cost and objectives within the organization, and that person has to be available to you for day-to-day on the ground support.

Most often, it is very difficult to get someone to accept ownership of a project because they will have the same questions about the objectives and the same concerns about the time and cost as you. It’s hard to take ownership of something you don’t understand and buy-in to, but a big part of your job as Project Manager is the process of identifying the best person to be your Project Customer, or even if achieving the original TCO is impossible, you be held responsible and accountable for the outcome.

Steering committees, people’s personal and/or professional agendas, even our own agendas (yes, we do have our own), all become a part of a project’s decision-making process. These are often referred to as “politics” and every Project Manager I have ever met wants to discuss how to manage the politics.

For me, at a certain point in my career, I realized that could not accomplish my own agenda of successful projects without negotiating into and around other people’s politics. The best way I found was to have an agree-to Project Customer and then that person’s was the only agenda I strove to fulfill, and in turn, the only politics I needed to manage.

Now when political agendas become frustrating, I always fall back on the famous (infamous?) question; “Who is my Project Customer”?

As you know from “Project Management… by the Numbers”, the definition of the “Project Customer” is simply:

“The Project Customer is the person that the Project Manager agrees-to and re-agrees to all time, cost and objectives issues of the project.”

When placing yourself (or being placed) in the role of Project Manager you need/must have a single point of contact for agreement of your time, cost and objectives. That is your “Project Customer.”

Therefore, the first question you ask when handed a project should be; “Who is my project customer?”, because sorting that simple question out in the very beginning (maybe even before “Wahoo – I got the project”) sets you and the project up for smoother sailing and eventual success.

Mark Reed, Project Management expert, Executive Consultant and President of Mark Reed Project Management, Inc. has brought his unique “Project Management… by the Numbers” methodology from his ProSess International division, to companies in 45 countries. Mark’s dynamic style, humor and extensive 20+ years experience in project management execution and training provides companies with a strong practical approach and innovative techniques for delivering over-the-top results. Mark Reed’s “… by the Numbers” program is a lifesaver for struggling project managers and their frustrated CEOs. His innovative techniques and fast-pasted, value-rich seminars have helped his clients achieve timely and cost effective programs and satisfied customers worldwide. Consultant /Trainer Mark Reed is also available for private consulting. For a free newsletter with project management tips or more information, visit http://www.bythenumbers.com, e-mail to mark.reed@bythenumbers.com or contact their headquarters at +1 206-251-9910.

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