A project is a temporary organization and therefore also needs its own project organization in which the structures, hierarchies and communication channels in the project are regulated. The boundaries between project and line must be clearly defined in order to be able to act efficiently both in the line and in the project.
The number of projects and the number of employees involved in projects is constantly growing. A scarcity of resources is a well-known accompaniment to project work, since line activities must be handled in addition to projects. This makes it all the more important to clearly define the boundaries between line and project. The establishment of a project organization ensures the greatest possible transparency.
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The challenge of establishing a project organization
In the rarest cases, companies rarely hire additional personnel for project management. Project employees are given an additional task to their line work in everyday jobs. It is often unclear both to their superiors and to the employees themselves how much time they should spend on which activities.
Confusion of competence through project work
In most cases, this double task is accompanied by a double boss. In addition to the line manager, the project manager also suddenly gives instructions – which are rarely agreed, often contradict each other and overload the employee. In some cases, this can lead to demotivation and frustration on the part of the employee. In the worst case, burnout is the end of the line if this situation lasts too long. An unmistakable regulation is absolutely necessary here.
Communication and decision paths
Cross-departmental communication and decision paths, which have to be taken on a daily basis in projects, are often tedious and protracted and considerably impair the progress of the project. The project organisation must therefore be partially or completely detached from the company organisation in order to create clear communication, decision-making and escalation paths.
Objectives of the project organization
The temporary project organisation is in principle a temporary company with its own rules, roles and communication structures. It is an indispensable instrument for regulating the cooperation of the people involved in the project.
Clear functions, roles and hierarchies
A clear definition of functions and roles creates an unambiguous distribution of tasks and competences and a clear demarcation to the line organisation. The hierarchies are flat but clearly defined. Everyone knows who to report to, who to make which decisions and who to give which “orders”. This creates transparency for all parties involved and accelerates project execution many times over.
If an employee A from department X now wants a decision from employee B from department Y, the communication does not have to run through the respective superiors as in the line organization, but can be clarified directly between employees A and B. This is because the communication between employees A and B is not the same as in the line organization.
Goals of the project organization
- Creation of transparency in the project
- Regulation of the cooperation of the persons involved in the project
- Identification of decision-making, reporting and escalation paths
- Shortening of communication channels
- Clear distribution of tasks and competencies through the definition of functions and roles
- Creation of the basis for project communication / information
Project versus line
In a project organization, employees are “deducted” from the line organization for a certain percentage of their working time for the duration of the project. The project organisation is leaner and flatter than the line organisation and thus increases the efficiency of information, communication and escalation within the project team.
Differentiation between project tasks and line tasks
A clear definition of roles and tasks and their demarcation from the line is indispensable. The most important point here is that the project manager has full decision-making and instruction authority and thus the opportunity to drive the project forward.
The project team members and all participants must learn to deal with the new project structures, which often leads to considerable difficulties in practice. Which supervisor likes to report to his actual employee just because he was suddenly awarded the title of “project manager”?
The project organization must be realistically livable
When personifying project roles, it is therefore a great advantage not to change the usual hierarchies too much in order to mitigate possible discrepancies from the outset. The strategic challenge is to make the temporary organization liveable. By defining roles and functions in the project, every employee knows about his tasks and competencies as well as those of his project colleagues. Thus unnecessary discussions about rights and duties can be averted at least in the first place.
The path to project organization
Definition of project roles
The project organization is always created in the initial phase of a project. The first step is the person-independent definition of the project roles. Which roles are necessary depends on the project. Sometimes the smallest form, which only contains the basics, is sufficient: Project client, project manager and project team. Depending on the size of the project, project staff acting as technical experts, a steering committee representing all the organizational units involved or a project coach can also be called in.
Staffing of roles in the project with persons
Once the roles have been defined, they are assigned to people who are optimally suited to perform the tasks. The higher the project client is represented in the line organization, the better for the project, as it receives a higher priority on the one hand and on the other hand the project client can make most of the decisions himself.
The project manager ideally chooses his own project team, but in practice it is often assigned to him from the existing pool of people and competencies. The “recruitment” of the project team must in any case be coordinated with the respective line managers.
Reporting structures and decision paths
Similar to the line organization, the project organization provides information about reporting structures and decision paths and is the basis for communication planning in the project, since it contains all relevant persons. It provides information on who reports to whom and who issues instructions to whom.
Graphical representation of the project organization
The best way to illustrate the project organization is in graphical form. In order to clarify the difference to the line organization, it is often represented in circle or ellipse form. Other representations are also possible, but not widespread.
In the course of the project the project organization can change, since certain authority are needed only for certain phases of the project. Like all project plans, the project organisation must be constantly checked for validity and adapted if necessary.
It can happen that an employee leaves the project or the company at all. New employees may also have to be called in due to newly defined project tasks. The project organization lives with the content of the project plan.
Example project organization
The classic project roles – tasks and competencies
Project client / Project sponsor
- Clear assignment of tasks to the project manager
- Definition of strategies, project goals and priorities with the project manager
- Agreement of organizational framework conditions with the project manager
- Support of the project manager as power promoter
- Making strategic project decisions
- Making budget decisions
- Strategic project controlling
- Coordination of the project with all affected areas
- Representation of project interests to the outside world
- Support of the project manager in case of problems and crises
Steering Committee / Steering Committee
- Often referred to as “review board” or similar.
- Making cross-departmental, cross-organizational, project-specific decisions
- Support of the project manager through his influence (power promoter)
- Acceptance of project part & overall project results
- The project client must be a member of the steering committee and usually chairs the steering committee.
Project Manager / Project Manager
- project planning
- Operational project controlling (performance, deadlines, costs and resources)
- Design of project communication and information
- Leadership of the project team
- Operational coordination, control and completion of the project
- Coordination and coordination with the project client/steering committee
- Project documentation and reporting
- Moderation of project meetings and securing results
- Has overall responsibility for the project
Project team member
- Implementation of assigned project tasks and responsibility for the results
- Contribution of technical know-how
- Participation in project team meetings
- Collaboration in project planning
- Collaboration in project implementation
- Collaboration in project controlling
- Information to the project manager
- Contribution of technical know-how
- Implementation of assigned project tasks
- Information to the project team
Checklist Project Organization
How to organize my project – First steps
- The project organisation should be established at the beginning of the project.
- If not all project members have been defined yet, the project organization is only filled with roles and functions that will be named later.
- It is best to create the project organization on flipcharts, whiteboards or similar media in order not to lose track.
- To distinguish it from the line organization, a circular or elliptical representation is recommended.
- At the very least it must be included: Project client, project manager and project team.
- The following can be added, for example: Technical experts, steering committee, sounding board, subteams, external roles, project coach.
Definition of roles and functions in the project organization
- The tasks, competencies and responsibilities are defined for each role in the project. Attention: These may not overlap, otherwise this leads to ambiguities in the course of the project.
- Make sure that there is no misunderstanding! Once the speed of travel has been reached in the project, there is usually no time to discuss unclear competencies.
- Tip: Have your definition checked by an outsider, whether he understands the same as you or whether he notices inconsistencies.
Nomination of the project team
- When nominating the persons, make sure that you do not mess up the line organization too much. A head of department who has to report to an employee in the project usually leads to tensions in the team, in the worst case it doesn’t work at all.
- The higher the number of employees in the line, the higher the project priority in the company and the faster decisions can be made.
- Make sure that you do not plan for too many people in your project, in case of doubt you would rather plan less. Two technical experts often work much more efficiently than five.
- The ideal size for a project team (without steering committee, project client, etc.) is 5-10 people. If you have more employees in the team, it makes sense to form subgroups.
- In any case, coordinate the nomination of the project team members with their line managers!
Setting up the organization in the project
- Ensure that each project team member is aware of his or her role in the project and has understood and can live his or her tasks, competencies and responsibilities.
- Use the project organization as a basis to plan communication in the project. The result is the project communication plan. This means that structured communication in the project team is also “clocked in”.
- Organize a kick-off meeting where the team can get to know each other.
- Activities “off the project” are especially suitable at the beginning but also in between as a teambuilding and motivation measure.
- Check the project organization at regular intervals for its validity and meaningfulness. New tasks may mean new project members. They must be integrated into the project organization in the same way.
Achieved the goal with the project organization?
- The people involved in the project are known and documented.
- Each project employee knows who is assigned to which project role.
- Tasks, competencies and responsibilities are assigned to each project role.
- The communication structures are transparent – every project employee knows to whom he must and should communicate what.
- The decision-making hierarchy in the project is clearly defined.
- Project communication runs on the shortest possible paths – “detours” across the line are eliminated.
- The hierarchy is flatter than in the line, decision paths are shorter and information flows more efficient.
Useful tips and tricks from the field
- It is recommended to work out the project organisation on flipcharts, whiteboards or comparable media.
- The representation with circles, ellipses and the like enables a differentiation from the line organisation.
- A start workshop and activities “off the project” facilitate team building.
- All collaborators must be clear about their roles, i.e. the expectations that are placed on them (e.g. describe roles / functions at least briefly and concisely).
- The intensity of the description of the roles depends on the size of the project and the project experience of the project participants.
We recommend the following articles for further reading:
- Work breakdown structure – 6 steps
- Work package
- Milestone Plan
- Time scheduling – Gantt chart
- Project order
- Project Client – role and tasks
- Project controlling – effective project monitoring
- Project reporting – meaningful project reports
- Social competence – a must-have for project managers?
- 9 Stages of Conflict Escalation according to Friedrich Glasl
- 4 Sides Model of Communication