Designing a structured organization for a project

What is a structured organization of a project?

We define the structured organization of a project as being the graphic representation or description of persons and organizations which are in some way involved in or affected by a project, a designation of their roles and the depiction or description of the relationship between them. Included are usually the commissioning organization (funder), the executing organization (organization in charge of the project, project leadership, project team), target groups and other stakeholders as well as the advisory group/steering committee, possibly also relevant departments and administrations, parent programmes, networked projects, associations and political groupings ("Structured organization chart).

The depiction of the project structure using the structured organization chart will clearly show the role of each actor, the way the project is institutionally embedded and networked. It also shows up potential supporters or detractors of the project who – through their spheres of influence - would be in a position to contribute to its success or failure; furthermore, technical, financial and political resources will be made transparent as well as sources of potential or real structurally inherent conflicts.

Designing a structured organization for a project

Ideally, the structure of a project is established in its initial planning phase. It will need to be completed and revised in later stages. The "structured organization chart should contain all relevant institutions, groups and (key-) individuals who play – or should play – a role in the project. When developing the plan the following key issues are central:

  • Which populations are targeted by the project?
  • Who has an interest in this project?
  • Who are potential funders?
  • Who can contribute important technical/professional expertise?
  • Are there any political key players who can be won over to support the project? How can they be integrated?
  • Are there any other interesting partners? Who has an interest in being heard?
  • Who could possibly hinder the project?
  • Are there any existing projects for collaboration?
  • Who can/will implement the project?
  • What functions must occur in the structure so that objectives can be best achieved? Who can perform these functions best?
  • How and where can the project be anchored permanently? Which elements should continue after the conclusion of the project? (see “Planning sustainability)?

Clarification of tasks, responsibilities and resources

Parallel to the definition of the project structure ("Structured organizational chart) the duties and responsibilities of eachactor need to be clarified and described. The "activity distribution chart serves as a template.

First, the key tasks must be identified (e.g. writing the project design, defining the structure, creating the budget, project planning, personnel management, public relations, and more) and the actors, both paid and voluntary, are named according to the organizational chart. Then, it has to be decided which project actor (named by function or specific individual) is responsible for each task and, in fulfilling his/her respective task, the degree of responsibility that is given to each of them (proposition, preparation of decisions, participation, decision, information, follow-up, and more).

Only when the required input and competences of each actor and for each task have been resolved can job profiles for the members of the "project team and the advisory group be created and can the search for suitable people start.

Adapting the structured organization

A project is a continuing process and organizational changes are often required due to developing project objectives and changes in contextual conditions. Thus, changes in the project structure are more the rule than the exception.

Only the implementation phase will reveal if the original project structure is adequate and helpful for the project’s progression and whether the different actors and groups are fulfilling their assigned duties satisfactorily. There may be misunderstandings about the roles and tasks and they may only need to be more clearly explained. Perhaps roles and responsibilities need to be reassigned. These adaptations would require changes in the organizational chart too.

The structural organization of a project changes during its course, for a variety of reasons. Project actors might leave or arrive, relationships change and priorities are sometimes reviewed and changed too.

The search for stronger political support or additional professional expertise might result in new key persons joining the advisory group. If the organizational structure of a project changes this should also be noted in the "structured organization chart.

Bibliographical references

  • Harrison Frederick and Lock Dennis (2004). Advanced Project Management. A structured approach. 4th edition. Burlington: Gower Publishing Company. Pp. 37 ff.
  • Lock, Dennis (2007). Project management. 9th edition. Hampshire: Gower. Pp. 127 ff.
  • Portny, Stanley E. (2007). Project Management for Dummies. 2nd edition. Hoboken: Wiley. Pp. 45 ff.
  • You are not in a position to decide about who will be involved in the project as this is decided by the funding organization or the organization in charge of the project, or there are persons or organizations who are imposing themselves.
  • You are not drawing up or adapting the organizational chart for lack of time or resources and because you cannot see any immediate value. You are concentrating your efforts on the actual project work.
  • You assume that the original project structure must be preserved and must not be changed.
  • Your project structure is limited to the description of the project leadership, the team and perhaps the institution in charge of the project. Thus, you concentrate on the operational aspect and leave to one side other important aspects such as networking and support.
  • If you have a clearer idea of the different key-players’ roles and competences you can structure the organization of your project in such a way that the structure itself becomes a key-ingredient for the successful planning and implementation of the project.
  • The depiction of the project structure provides clarity. Transparency in all project matters also helps newcomers to the project.
  • Show your project structure by using the “structured organization chart and the instructions for use.
  • Define the duties, powers and responsibilities in an “activity distribution chart.
  • Discuss the project structure with other specialists as well as politically well-connected people. Find out about key people with influence and expertise who are important for your project and try to integrate them into the advisory group. Before making contact with such key individuals think about the interests they might have themselves in participating in the project.
  • Check periodically if the advisory group members and other people involved with the project understand their role and function and that they actually fulfill them. Take immediate action if this is not the case.
  • Are all persons and institutions whose support is important for the project’s success on board? Is this also true for critical voices?
  • Are the persons designated for the advisory group really the key players? Do they have specific expertise and/or important contacts and are they influential?
  • Have the roles, tasks and responsibilities of each actor been sufficiently clarified and recorded?
  • Do the target groups have opportunities for participation? Do they have an active role within the project structure?
Last modification: 31 August, 2010 22:45