Who’s Your Project Authority?

A lot of lip service is given to the concept of empowerment. But when push comes to shove all decision making power floats up to the project authority. The project authority is the person who controls & juggles the five project balls of scope, dollars, schedule, resources & risks. If these duties are spread across a number of people then the person who all these people report to is the true project authority. Find the person who hold decision making power over all five and you’ve found the true project authority.

I hear you saying, ‘Well that’s obvious.” But you’d be surprised how many projects I’ve been on where the project or program manager is not the project authority. When this unfortuate situation occurs the power struggle between the people who compete over each of five controls can be frustrating, causing project delays and confusion for all project members.

On complex projects we can’t expect the project authority to have the knowledge and clairvoyance required to keep all five of these balls in the air without the assistance and expertise of others. This is good, and expected, but those providing the advise and support to the project authority have to constantly be reminded that the ultimate decision lies with the project authority.

We can learn something from the military here. There is a chain of command for a reason. With power comes responsibility. For the geeks out there, I like the Piccard model from StarTrek NG. Decision making during a crisis on the bridge of the Enterprise-D is as follows. The project authority (Piccard) sees a crisis and calls for suggested plans of action from the bridge crew. A quick open discusssion of alternative courses of action follows. Piccard considerd all the input and makes a decision, gives a command, which is followed by the crew to the letter. And the crisis is averted, the universe as we know it is saved! Television is so clean and tidy that way, at the end of the episode, all is right with the world.

Now in the real world things are a) never as dire & b) never as easily brought to closure. When was the last status meeting you went to where the project scope was increased but the schedule was not adjusted and everything was resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. Right it’s never like that. 

It’s often more like the Alexander Haige approach. When Ronald Reagan was shot by John Hinkley Jr. back in the ’80s, Haige – then Secretary of State, tried to take control as acting President. Thanks to someone’s foresight, protocol was already established and everyone else knew that the George Bush Sr. then Vice President was really the acting authority

The point of all this is the project authority is the person who has to decide and control all five of the factors of project authority (scope, dollars, schedule, resources & risks.) Know this and confusion about who’s decision it is will be avoided.

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