Project Management’s Cast of Characters (PM 101 – Part 5)

            Some recurring parts that people play on projects are important to know if you want to borrow any of this vocabulary for your job application.  They include:  stakeholder, project administrator, team lead, testing coordinator, business analyst, quality assurance.

            Let’s start with “stakeholder,” because without these people, projects don’t exist.  If you’re a reader of the classics, “stakeholder” might make you think of the guy who finally did in Dracula, who turned him to dust by thrusting a stake in his heart.  I think it was Quincy Morris, who was one of the heroine’s suitors.  I guess that is one kind of stakeholder, when you think about it. 

But on projects, a stakeholder’s job is much less dramatic, alas, but no less essential to a happy ending.  As the name suggests, they have a stake in the outcome.  It may be a person who had the idea for the project in the first place (“I want a new system that will do <whatever> because it will save the department money”).  Stakeholders may be found in an entire department whose jobs will be changed by the project—one hopes changed for the better.  One very important stakeholder is always the person or organization who’s paying for the project.

            Another role:  a “project administrator,” someone who assists a project manager by scheduling meetings, preparing reports, calculating project metrics.  This role exists on large projects only, and sometimes not even then.  On smaller projects, the Project Manager (PM) takes care of all this himself.  But advice for liberal arts students to whom this seems even slightly interesting:  When you see a “project administrator” position, apply!  It’s a perfect entry-level job for anyone who can write, reason, analyze and assist, and a good place to learn.

            Another role:  “team lead.”  These are people who head up specific work efforts within a  project, often associated with the work done in phases.  (Remember installment #2 of this exciting series, about how projects are organized into phases?)  You can have a test team lead, a design team lead, a training lead.  Like a mini-Project Manager, team leads have the same leadership challenge PM’s have—i.e., responsibility without authority.  They just have it on a smaller scale, though I’m sure sometimes it doesn’t feel smaller.

            Roles vary depending on the type of project (construction, technology, process change … remember, there are many different kinds of work done on projects), but some others are these:  General Contractor, Architect, Estimator, Quality Assurance, Business Analyst, Data Analyst, Process Modeler, Programmer, Tech Writer, Tester (which is not the same as Quality Assurance, usually).

            Performing many of these roles requires specific technical skills.  You can’t be a programmer if you can’t program.  But many of these roles require analytical skills, the ability (and willingness!) to document processes, how-to guides, data definitions, and more.  Liberal arts students are qualified for many entry-level positions on projects, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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