Using Project Job Descriptions and Profiles to Staff the Project Team

In practical application, every project is a unique, mini-enterprise, to be newly staffed according to the needs and deliverables of the moment. To realize required results, every project “staff member” must be provided with an actionable “job” description, also known as a “project job profile” (PJP).  This is the means by which responsibilities are defined and performance is measured.  Read on for more.

What is a Project Job Description/Profile?

In an operational context, job descriptions/profiles lay out the primary responsibilities for a given position, to set expectations for how specific jobs will be performing, and providing a measureable basis for performance reviews. Job descriptions are both planning tools for establishing staffing requirements and also provide actionable performance guidelines for each respective staff member. The use is very similar in the project context, making allowances for the unique nature of project-specific job descriptions (considering the temporary nature of every project initiative). Above all, the PJP is a standardized means to streamline the project “staffing” process.  (Also Read:  Project Roles and Responsibilities)

Even with all the similarities, the PJP still differs from the traditional job description due to the varied approaches to project staffing, as the following list demonstrates:

  • Projects can be staffed through a dedicated project management organization (i.e. the project management office).
  • Projects can be staffed "temporarily" by individuals with other (non-project) job titles, assigned to projects on an as-needed basis. These individuals may continue to fill their operational roles while they work on projects.
  • Projects are staffed by outside contractors and/or consultants (in whole or part).
  • Projects are staffed by some combination of the three variables listed above.

Using the PJP to Staff and Manage "On Time" Projects

Considering these organizational variations, project staffing strategies (and related PJPs) will likely follow these two (2) primary strategies:

1. To staff permanent project management positions. (i.e. profiles with an organizational perspective). Organizational profiles are synonymous with the traditional job description because they represent permanent functional positions.

2. To specify titles, roles and responsibilities for "as-needed" project work, or to retain contractors/consultants (profiles with a project perspective). In this case, project job titles are unique to the project at hand, and do not replace official, functional job titles. (Example: The "Help Desk" manager is assigned to work as a Project Manager for a software training project).

Getting Started: Inputs to the PJP

Every project manager faces three (3) key questions when staffing a given project:

  • What types of skills and tasks are required to complete this project?
  • How will roles and responsibilities be allocated to complete the project on time, as needed, and on budget?
  • How will the project team be organized into discrete "job functions" and reporting relationships?

PJP Deliverables: Content Standards

The key to PJP preparation is brevity and precision. Effective PJP's will be designed to clearly communicate duties, responsibilities and expectations, touching on most, if not all, of the following elements:

Job Title: To provide a descriptive name for the project position.

Tip: Project team members should be given titles that reflect primary project function i.e. Documentation Specialist, Risk Assessment Specialist, Purchasing Coordinator. In addition, job titles should also be designed to reflect experience, i.e. Senior Project Manager vs. Project Manager.

Purpose: To provide a brief overview of the position "objectives" and primary role within the current project or project organization.

Duties and Responsibilities: To list the tasks, activities, decisions and related work obligations associated with this job position. Note: If the position holds supervisory authority, certain "duties and responsibilities" will likely be delegated to others, but accountability remains.

Primary Deliverables: To list the key, measurable deliverables (results, outcomes) for which this position will be responsible and accountable.

Skills: To list the technical, management and professional skills needed to perform the requisite duties and tasks.

Examples: (a) Project Skills: Project definition, planning, documentation, scheduling, budgeting, risk planning, issues tracking and progress measurement. (b) Supervisory Skills: Management, delegation, motivation, performance evaluation. (c) Technical Skills: Programming, design, testing, installation, technical support, problem resolution. (d) Soft Skills: leadership, communication, negotiation, time management, conflict resolution, creativity.

Level of Authority: To define the authority held by this position. Within the project environment, authority can exist at multiple levels:

  • A. Supervisory Authority (over other staff members).
  • B. Decision Making Authority (relating to strategies, tactics, issues, priorities and problem resolutions).
  • C. Financial Authority (expenditures, purchases, contracts, budgets).
  • D. Approval Authority (to accept requirements, specifications and related deliverables).
  • E. Level of Autonomy: The degree to which the position is self-directed.
  • F. Reporting Relationships: The relative positioning of the "job" within the organizational hierarchy of the project. Who does this position report to, and how many direct, and indirect reports will this position manage?

Logistics: To define physical and logistical work parameters including location, travel requirements, assignment length, and expected time commitment (full or part time assignment).

Creating Catalogs of Project Job Profiles

To save time and improve productivity, standardized PJP’s can be created and stored as a “catalog” that can be utilized as projects are proposed and selected. The first step in preparing a catalog of standardized "project job profiles" is to look back at completed projects to find commonalities:

  • What types of "jobs" have been typically required in past projects?
  • How have previous (and successful) project teams been organized?
  • How were roles and responsibilities defined and allocated?
  • What "lessons learned" can be applied to create pro-forma job profiles for future projects?

Once a PJP "catalog" is created, it can be used as a tool to identify resource requirements, organize the project team, and assign roles and responsibilities. In order to ensure that the PJP catalog can be used effectively, all incorporated profiles should be written using a standardized format, relying on the “action word" technique whenever possible to describe duties, responsibilities and expectations. 

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