Does your project team have a roles and responsibilities document that sets out what everyone does? You should do. It’s a really simple document that helps clarify how everyone is contributing to the project.
In this article we’ll look at what it is and how you can use it.
In this article:
- What is a Roles and Responsibilities document?
- Why do you need a roles and responsibilities document?
- RACI charts
- How is a Roles and Responsibilities document different from a RACI matrix?
- The typical roles on a project team
- When do you create the Roles and Responsibilities document?
- Who creates the document?
- What should you include in a Roles and Responsibilities document?
- How to use a Roles and Responsibilities template
What is a Roles and Responsibilities document?
Here’s a definition:
A Roles and Responsibilities document is a formal way of defining what each role is responsible for on a project team.
Roles are not the same as people. One individual can hold more than one role. Some people on the project team may have more than one role.
For example, the project manager has a role involving leading the project, and also a role on the project board as someone responsible for project governance.
Responsibilities are the tasks that the role is responsible for carrying out. For example, the project sponsor is responsible for chairing the project board meetings.
Why do you need a roles and responsibilities document?
Because it’s awesome.
No, really — because it’s a useful way of communicating what everyone is doing on the project. It helps people understand what they have committed to do (or been committed to do by their management). Use the template as part of your communications plans.
The roles and responsibilities template helps everyone understand what other people will be doing on the project, so they know how their work overlaps with other people’s tasks. You can identify where hand offs will happen on the team too.
Doing the exercise to write down what everyone is responsible for helps work out if there are overlaps between what people are doing, so you can avoid duplication of effort and work more efficiently.
Using a team member roles and responsibilities template is good for team harmony!
Another project document that you can use in conjunction with the Roles and Responsibilities template is the RACI chart, so take a look at that as well — you might not need both if your project is small.
How is a Roles and Responsibilities document different from a RACI matrix?
A RACI chart or matrix (or RASCI) is used to allocate types of responsibility to different individuals. You have a name on the chart that links the person to the type of involvement they have on different aspects of the project.
You could, in theory, make a RACI chart that shows roles at the top instead of names, but my thoughts on that are then it becomes so abstract it’s not really helpful for day-to-day project management.
For more information on RACI, read my complete guide to the RACI matrix.
The typical roles on a project team
You can use the roles and responsibilities document for any team, but if you’ve found this page you most likely work on a project. Typical roles in a project team include:
- The project manager (that’s you)
- The project sponsor
- The steering group or project board (that’s a group of people filling a particular governance role on the project — I’d give them a mention in the document but for big projects you’d want a separate Board Terms of Reference for their contribution)
- Supplier (anyone who is giving you things to use in the project)
- IT Lead (because so many projects include technology elements these days, it’s worth having a designated tech person on the team)
- Subject Matter Expert(s)
However, your project might need a range of other different roles. Here are some other roles that you commonly find on project teams:
- Designers/UX experts
- Construction experts
- Health and safety experts
- Marketing expert
- Press and media relations expert
- Sales expert
- Customer Services expert
- Finance expert
You are defining the roles that the team needs, so specify whatever you need in the document, noting that one person could do two roles.
In an IT project, for example, you could have system developers also taking on a testing role or peer reviewing their colleague’s work in a quality role. It’s common for people to need to wear multiple hats on a project. Even the project manager may have several roles and get stuck in to different tasks as required.
If you want to formalize this, put it in the R&R document. If it doesn’t matter so much, don’t create documentation based on what someone might have to do in a difficult situation, for example when someone on the team is sick. Stick to creating a document that reflects how you expect the team to work in ‘normal’ situations.
When do you create the Roles and Responsibilities document?
I would use the free template during the project initiation phase. It’s a document you create early in the project so that everyone starts off with the same knowledge about what the team is collectively responsible for.
Who creates the document?
The project manager is the person who will type up the document and own it, sharing the file with the rest of the team.
The project manager should not create the content for the document alone. That’s asking for trouble! We need people to buy into what their role is on the project, so you need to talk to them first.
Have a conversation with project team members before you complete the template.
What should you include in a Roles and Responsibilities document?
Include the role type and what that role is responsible for on the project.
For example, the project sponsor is responsible for:
- Overall project ownership
- Handling issues outside of the project manager’s sphere of control
- Approving the plan
- Approving changes to plan, scope, budget and timescales
- Owning of the budget
- Championing the project amongst his/her peers and providing leadership as required
- Delivering project communications as required
- Chairing Steering Group meetings
I also include the names of the people holding the roles — not every Roles and Responsibilities template does this, but I think it’s valuable to know what each individual is supposed to be doing on the project. Otherwise it’s just an arbitrary list that reads like a job advert.
How to use a Roles and Responsibilities template
My project team roles and responsibilities template is a Word document, but you could also make a version in Excel if you prefer to use a spreadsheet template.
Personally, I think that stakeholders respond better to Word versions than a spreadsheet, because the document can be quite wordy, but it’s your choice.
Fill in your document with input from people who will be doing the work. No one likes it when they are allocated responsibilities without knowing about it in advance.
Don’t make a massive industry out of filling in this document. Once you’ve been managing projects for some time you can pretty much work out what everyone is going to be doing, and if you work with people who are experienced in a project environment, they won’t find it weird to be documenting their roles.
Just whip up a draft, circulate it for comment and use it as a contract to hold people accountable later. If it needs to change, amend the document as you go.
Make sure the header and footer of the document is update to reflect your project information. If you have a copy of my template, take off my logo and add your own so you can take the credit for creating the document!
Share it with the people who are mentioned, so they know what they are responsible for — what they agreed to be responsible for. It’s that simple!
If you want to include even more detail, you could add:
- Authority and sign off levels
- Budget associated with that role
- Staff members reporting to that role
- Interfaces between this role and other roles
- Qualifications required to do the role
- Core skills and competencies required to do the role.
However, I would go for as little as possible content in the document while still making it clear what people are responsible for.
Here’s to clarity about team roles and smoother hand offs between colleagues!
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