The Only Three Project Roles

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It’s always exciting when you start a new project until you realize that it’s going off the track just like it usually does. There are lots of reasons for this, so let’s look at how you can be more productive. The key to good project management is to:

  • Clarify what is a project.
  • Identify the three roles of project management.
  • Intentionally launch work for the right person at the right time.
  • Don’t get too complicated – simplicity RULES.

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Clarify What Is a Project

It seems simple enough, but most people don’t really understand the difference between a task, a project, and a process. If you confuse these three, your project will fail.

  • A task is the smallest piece of work – it should be done by one person and should take less than a half day to complete.
  • A project is a combination of tasks that builds something that didn’t exist before.
  • A process is a collection of tasks that repeat over and over. For example, taxes.


Tasks and projects are the key components of project management. When the project completes whatever is being built, it is passed on to the process person or team who will maintain it for as long as needed. This handoff can be tricky if not clearly planned.

Identify the Three Roles of Project Management

To keep tasks, projects, and processes straight requires clarity of roles for people. There are three (and only three) roles in project management:

  • The Project Sponsor is an executive who manages the budget and high-level issues and normally isn’t involved in the moment to moment project work.
  • The Project Manager is responsible for making sure all the tasks are done for the project and the transition to process is successful.
  • The Stakeholders represent everyone else on the project. These are people who may contribute something to the project or receive something from the project, but they are usually part time. They can include business analysts, software developers, instructional designers, and more, but it’s simpler to call them all stakeholders.

Intentionally Launch Work for the Right Person at the Right Time

The project manager is responsible for enforcing the roles. When everyone knows what their job is, the project can continue with less chaos. Be careful to match the person to the job, not the job for any person who is available. There will always be issues to deal with, but when the right person is in the appropriate role, things flow more smoothly.

Don’t Get Too Complicated – Simplicity RULES

The secret to success is: don’t sweat the small or medium stuff. Instead of building lots of rules and processes, keep the process high-level and the roles bounded. Collaborate constantly with your stakeholders. Communication is the key to finishing well. There will still be two steps forward and one step back, but if you start well and stay the course, your project will finish well.

Headshot of Lou Russell smiling
Lou Russell

 Lou Russell is an executive consultant, popular speaker, and respected author whose passion is to create growth in companies by guiding the growth of their people. In her speaking, training, and writing, she draws on 30 years of experience helping organizations to achieve their full potential. Lou is the author of seven popular books, such as Leadership Training, Training Triage, and Managing Projects. She has spoken at more than 300 conferences, including ATD International and the Society of Information Management (SIM). Lou has an “expired” B.S. from Purdue in Computer Science and an M.S. in Instructional Systems Technology from Indiana. Her business is a certified Women’s Business Enterprise and a Project Management Institute partner.

Connect with Lou on LinkedIn.

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