If you are a project manager who thinks the project manager's role is to "deliver" the project, then you are in the wrong profession.

If you a project manager who thinks your role is to simply "deliver" the project, then you are in the wrong profession. To deliver the project on time and on budget is fine. To complete the tasks and deliver the outputs to specification is also fine. But it is not the real game.

The real game is the results your project achieves: the business outcomes, results and improvements realized; the strategy that is delivered.

That is how project success is ultimately measured by the business -  in terms of what is achieved, the business outcomes, benefits and value realized. Indeed, the whole reason organizations commission projects is to improve business performance and achieve the desired strategic and business results. We need to ensure this self-evident truth is not forgotten.

The notion that projects only deliver outputs, deliverables, products or capabilities ...  has been created by project managers who want to limit their accountability to what they perceive to be within their control. While this view of the project manager's role is understandable, it is not acceptable ... as this narrow focus destroys business value.

Projects, what they are and what they are supposed to deliver, should not be defined by project managers who manage them -  rather by the business executives who commission them, who pay for them and who then live with the results.

The purpose and value of projects is determined by the owner (the business), not the project manager.

What this all means is that we have been looking at projects back to front.

We need to define and view projects from the business perspective. This perspective radically changes the project's purpose and the measures of success. It changes what is important and also challenges many of the beliefs that currently exist around projects and good project practice.

Most importantly it makes clear the difference between the project investment and the project itself.

Project investments are commissioned to deliver a set of agreed desired business outcomes (working "just right" business-as-usual end states), the associated business benefits and financial value. This is what the business wants to achieve.

Or at least it should be. We acknowledge that one of the major problems with projects today is that the business does not define its desired business outcomes, benefits and value, effectively leaving the project (and the Project Manager) leadersless and in no-mans-land. Hence, most projects miss, lose or destroy more value than they deliver.

But, when the business owners do define their desired business outcomes…the projects themselves can then be defined to deliver:

  • A clearly defined subset of the desired business outcomes (‘project outcomes’) and
  • The benefits and value immediately available from the delivery of these project outcomes.

This is much more than ‘on time, on budget, to specification’ - it actually shifts the Project Manager's role into delivering value and outcomes rather than simply controlling time and budget.

The Project Manager's accountability does not end at the delivery of some product or deliverable but when the business has accepted, adopted and is using the product/deliverable effectively.

For example, if the project is to produce a quality manual – its success is not measured by the existence of the manual (however good it is) but by it's successful adoption, use and increase in quality results – the outcomes and benefits.

This requires projects managers to work closely with their business managers and staff to ensure that what is delivered and how it is delivered is easily understood, adopted and used. No more ‘deliver the goods and run’. It also requires the business to be totally involved in leading, directing and controlling projects – supporting and leveraging the project manager and the business to get the optimal results.

Both parties - the business owner and the project manager - need to be in total alignment, performing, contributing and delivering results. Neither party can achieve the desired project or business outcomes on their own. Projects truly need to be a joint exercise, but with the business in the drivers seat.

What is required is total business ownership of the project...

in which the business provides direction, leadership, control and accountability for the results able to act effectively and collaboratively with the project manager. Then the business will get the results that it wants and the project manager will get the direction, leadership and support that s/he wants.

It is time for the business to stop delegating (abdicating?) accountability for project results to project managers

And. For project managers to stop abdicating accountability for outcomes and benefits to the business. Too much value, waste and frustration has been created through this business/project confusion and gap.

Equipping the business to fill this gap, to take up and effectively own their projects is what TOP® does. It puts the business in control of its strategy, projects and benefits realization—as it should be.

The TOP Value Equation makes it easy to for business owners to define exactly what their project's desired business outcomes are and for project managers to understand what the business is trying to achieve. Download Understanding the Value Equation now



Topics: Program / Project delivery

Further Reading



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Revision History

First published: Simms, J. (Nov 2014) as "The Project Manager's Role - Who "Owns" The Project?"

Updated: Chapman, A. (March 2020), Revisions and Corrections