Project Practitioners > The Importance of Early Role Definition

The Importance of Early Role Definition

By Ann Drinkwater

If you ever hear, “we’ll figure out who should be involved or who does what later, we have plenty of time”, you should immediately document this thinking as a project risk. It may not seem important to all involved, but a clear path of responsibility and roles is important from the initial concept stage. We have been trained to identify and document those on the implementation/project team; however, there are numerous other involved constituencies that should be identified early on.  The success of our projects doesn’t start when development and implementation begins or ends; it is the sum of all the inputs, outputs and even perceptions.


While it may seem obvious, I also suggest documenting the specific roles of the team and the role they will play on the project, including their role in specific deliverables. To me, you can’t be too specific when it comes to who is responsible, what is to be done, when it is to be done and the definition of done for each project deliverable. Below are the main areas to define for each involved person:


  • Approve: Indicate if they are to approve the deliverable.
  • Review: Indicate if they are to review deliverables and provide feedback.
  • Create:  Indicate whether they are responsible for implementing and completing the deliverable as well as if they are the primary or secondary contributor.
  • Provide Input:  Indicate those who will provide input and feedback on a deliverable.
  • Notified: Indicate those who should be notified when the deliverable is complete or there is a change to the deliverable.
  • Manages: Indicate those who will oversee the deliverable and serve all other roles.

Why is it necessary to establish this detail early on?


  • Early Buy In: As I always say, the sooner the affected stakeholders are identified, the sooner they will become part of the project.
  • Proper Planning: Plans take time to develop and implement. Early and ongoing involvement will allow ample time to complete activities and communicate with those affected by the project.
  • Proper Communication/Feedback: Identify the group(s) involved early in the process will allow the project team an outlet for direct feedback from those impacted by the project.

What can you do to identify and engage the various stakeholders?


  • Map Out Project Flows: This will help identify the primary and alternative courses the project could take as well as the associated departments and vendors.
  • Ask Questions: Solid analysis and questioning leads to more questions and further understanding the project, the audience and everyone impacted. By soliciting input, you are also helping unite stakeholders.
  • Early Involvement is Key:  Figure out who needs to be involved early on and continue to refine and expand the group as you uncover more about the project. Involving the group in meetings, demonstrations and even process related discussions outside of the core project can help make everyone feel more connected.
  • Keep Everyone Excited about the Project and Expected Results: Make sure everyone understands the importance of their role and input in the project. Sharing sessions where the implementation team reveals a new feature to the group as a show and tell will keep the momentum going.
  • Provide Regular Updates: Update the group on progress, risks and even setbacks. Communicating an accurate picture of where things are allows the group to creatively assist in resolving roadblocks, with everyone working together to succeed.
  • Bring the Entire Team Together Routinely: Meetings allow colleagues to come together, to share their opinion and to further connect with the group and the project. Written communications should be provided between formal meetings.
  • Provide All Groups Assignments to Keep things on Track: During meetings and before every milestone, reinforce and recommunicate who is doing what and why.

For templates and other tools on role definition, visit the Project Connections template library. Most are restricted to premium members, but well worth the investment.

Related Links
Keep track of your team's project involvement with a detailed Responsibility Allocation Matrix. (If you prefer a simpler format, you might want to look at this one or check out the formats in this template.) Document those risky assumptions in a risk assessment table, along with a note about who's responsible for making the eventual decision and when. Remember to analyze and document your stakeholder impacts too.

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