Chapter 15 - Sub-Project Manager and Work Package Owner

Part 2

Roles in a project

You as project manager play a key role in the project and you are responsible for its success - or failure. You are the contact point, the project's spokesman and team leader. Nevertheless, you cannot be the only person who is responsible for every sub-project or work package.

You are responsible for managing the project as an entity. Your project management team on the other hand is established for the duration of a project as an organisational unit. Its responsibility lies in the planning, control and monitoring of the project. This organisational unit consists of staff who perform a management function in the project. Thus, sub-project managers and work package owners are also members of the project management team.

A project manager needs the support of his team. As shown in the WBS, a project can be split in sub-tasks and work packages and for every work package and for every sub-task a person in charge should be named. Assigning responsible persons for each work package and for each sub-tasks can bring two major advantages: on one hand, if you are relieved by your team, you've more time to concentrate on strategic decisions and to keep an eye on the project from the management perspective. On the other hand, the team members are actively involved in the project. They are assigned responsibilities and competencies which can increase their motivation. Furthermore, tasks as well as expectations are communicated properly which is very beneficial to the success of the project since communication plays an important role in every project.

A project leader who has gained initial experience in small-scale projects and is able to apply this knowledge, can function as a sub-project manager in large-scale projects. He is able to apply the core aspects of project management, e.g. he can

  • prepare a sub-project description,
  • prepare a basic cost estimate for a project stage,
  • monitor deadline adherence and costs,
  • monitor project documentation and performance of change management tasks and
  • carry out acceptance and handover procedures for a sub-project.

The work package owner carries out similar duties, but on the work package level. That means that he is responsible for

  • preparing a work package description,
  • preparing a basic cost estimate for a work package and
  • monitoring deadline adherence and costs.

Both the sub-project manager and the work package owner should be motivated to do the assigned task. Furthermore, it's important that they have analysis as well as social skills and technical experience in the specific field.

In order to find your right partner, there are five steps which can be followed:

Step 1

Decide which functional unit in the organisation or which external partner could perform the WP. Include the unit or external company in the WBS and create the first organisation breakdown structure, assign sub-project managers and the people who will be responsible for the work packages.

Step 2

It will be necessary to prepare a skills profile for some WPs so that the WP responsibilities can be defined. To find the right person for each task you can use for example the stakeholder analysis or the WBS. Sometimes it can be useful to take a look at the job profile or the work package description, to find out which characteristics are needed for the specific task. It may be possible to gain the customer, the human resources department and/or (subject to the customer's consent) a line manager as supporters in this task. If the organisation implementing the project has a quality management system, there may be pre-defined employee profiles in the QA manual.

Step 3

Define the people responsible for the WPs; possibly in conjunction with the people specified in step 2.

Step 4

It may be necessary to discuss the WPs with the person who is responsible for it and make some adjustments.

Step 5

Create a project organisation chart and then establish an escalation procedure in case of a crisis. Clarify whether you, the project manager, have decision authority in the event of a crisis. Why? Because you have the most extensive knowledge of the project.

Procedures after defining the people responsible for WPs and sub-project managers

The project is now integrated in the line organisation.

How the story ends…

Chris Feldmann is one of the sub-project managers. In the beginning he was very reliable and dedicated to the job. After some time, however, Dr. Rogers notices that Chris is increasingly neglecting his duties, being late for meetings or not coming at all. When Carl takes a look at the timetable, he notices that Chris' sub-project will probably also have scheduling problems.

Dr. Rogers has a lunch appointment with John. Since he wants John to gain as much insights as possible from the internship, Dr. Rogers decides to tell John about the problem, without mentioning any names, of course. After he finishes telling the story about the sub-project manager, he asks John: "What would you do now if you were in my place?" John replies: "I would first seek a conversation with him. You have emphasised so many times the importance of communication, so I would meet him personally. I would ask him about his problem." Carl is satisfied with the answer, but he adds: "Furthermore we have to work out a solution together. Of course, it is important to identify the problem, but a solution to the problem is even more essential." "Yes, you're right, I agree. You also said earlier that you fear that the employee will not keep to the schedule either. How would you proceed if this happens?" "That is an excellent question. As soon as I notice that the end of the sub-project is significantly delayed, I have to talk to the steering committee. They must then decide how to proceed. Although I'm responsible in the event of a crisis this is no longer my sole responsibility. But now I have to leave to prevent exactly that situation."