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Project Team Roles


Role Confusion

Around 1870 David Livingstone and his team of porters were clearing a path through the Congolese jungle with machetes, hoping to find the source of the Nile. The head porter's job was to manage - ensuring that machetes stayed sharp, the porters had enough water, and were generally able to continue clearing a path through the jungle.

Livingstone's job, as the leader, was to climb a tree and look around to make sure the jungle was being cleared in the right place.

This seperation between management and leadership seems distinct and obvious. And yet all too often we happily entrust the delivery of complex IT projects to project managers or customer representatives. Abdicating, say, the decision to use multi-factor authentication and claims-based authorization to a line manager is... unwise, most of the time.

Other team roles don't often fare better. Developers often test their own code without a test strategy, or the involvement or oversight of a tester. Network administrators decide on application security measures. Salesmen dictate project schedules, features and at the same time constrain budgets (see tradeoff triangles ).

It's surprising sometimes, that anything ships.

Team Roles

Below is a list of project team roles, loosely based on the MSF Team Model from 2003 (the MSF model a bit dated now, but still very relevant). The list contains my preferred approach to structuring a project team:

Product management

Goal: Satisfied customers.

Functional Areas   Responsibilities
Marketing   Develops and maintains the business case
Business value   Drives the project vision/scope
Customer advocate   Manages customer requirements
Product planning   Manages customer expectations
  Manages features/schedule/resources trade-off decisions
  Manages marketing and public relations
  Develops, maintains, and executes the communications plan
  Manages risk


Goal: Delivering a successful solution within project constraints.

Functional Areas   Responsibilities
Technical leadership   Manages the product specification
Process assurance   Drives implementation of critical trade-off decisions
Quality assurance   Facilitates communication and negotiation within the team
  Develops the project schedule
  Develops, maintains, and executes the project plan
  Manages risk

Project Management

Goal: Managing solution delivery within project constraints.

Functional Areas   Responsibilities
Resource management   Manages development process to ship product on time
Project management   Maintains the project schedule
Administrative services   Reports project status
  Manages risk


Goal: Build to specification.

Functional Areas   Responsibilities
Technology consulting   Specifies features of the physical design
Application development   Builds features
Infrastructure development   Builds and prepares solution and environment for deployment
Test planning Develops test strategy and plan
Test engineering Conducts testing

Team Size

The team roles should scale. This means that for larger projects, teams can be split into feature teams...

Feature teams

..or, for smaller projets, roles can be combined:

  Arch.   Proj.
  Dev.   UX   Test   Ops
 Product Management    N   N   N   U   P   U
 Architecture   N   N   P   U   U   P
 Project Management   N   N   N   U   U   P
 Development   N   P   N   P   N   P
 User Experience   U   U   U   P   P   U
 Test   P   U   U   N   P   P
 Operations   U   P   P   U   P   P  

Where P = possible, U = unlikely, and N = not.

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