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Success Criteria for Project Owners

Four out of ten project owners are far too poor at communicating. An even greater share receive a failing mark for their ability to motivate project members, according to an award-winning study from BI Norwegian School of Management.

Very much of the activity at companies and public enterprises is organized as projects. Project management has become an established field.

We have learned much about why projects succeed or fail. We also know much about what is necessary for project managers to succeed in their role.

"There has been a much narrower focus on the demands on the project owner," states Professor Erling S. Andersen at BI Norwegian School of Management. He is one of Norway's foremost experts on project management.

Today many project managers complain that too poor competence by the project owner can be an obstacle to the project work.

Erling S. Andersen has conducted a comprehensive study at Norwegian enterprises to shed light on the role of project owner, and to show what is necessary to succeed as project owner.

Dual role

According to Andersen, the role of project manager can be divided in two:

The project owner must control the project on a general level She (or he) must ensure that the project's mandate, general plans and organization are adopted, and check that the progress meets the plans adopted. The project owner must set the success and performance criteria.
The project owner must be the project's spokesperson at the basic organization. This means ensuring that the project has the necessary framework conditions, that the project has support and involvement from central parties, so that the project product can be successfully implemented.

To succeed in performing the two roles, a number of demands are made on the qualities of the project owner.

"The project owner must play an active role as a partner for the project manager and project team, and must be both supportive and provoking.

One of the most important qualities of a project owner is good communication skills, asserts the project researcher.

At the same time, previous research shows that the project owner should have adequate seniority and power within the organization, political knowledge about the organization, an ability and willingness to create contacts between the project and basic organization, and to fight for the project.

Study of project owners

Erling S. Andersen conducted a survey by questionnaire regarding the relationship between the project owner and project manager among continuing education and training students on BI's Master and Management programme on project management.

The survey included responses from 77 interviewees, who considered a wide range of different types of projects. Each participant was asked to choose a project they knew well. The projects also had a clearly-defined project owner.

The questionnaire was followed up with in-depth interviews with 25 selected project owners and project managers.


Most of the project owners assessed had been with the organization long enough and had held enough of a position in relation to the importance of the project.

Most of the project owners (87.5 per cent) were also very familiar with how the main organization worked, and knew how to proceed to promote the interests of the project. They were also able to build necessary relations between the project and the permanent organization.

More than three of four project owners assessment were commended for their ability and willingness to fight and take chances on behalf of the project.

Need to improve communication

The communication skills of only six out of ten project owners received a passing mark. This means that as many as four out of ten project owners assessed do not have adequate communication skills.

In the following in-depth interviews, 11 out of 11 project owners answered that they have good or excellent communication skills. The picture is much more nuanced for the 14 project managers interviewed. They believe that the project owners' communication skills vary greatly – from very good to poor.

At the very least, this means that Norwegian project owners could afford to train and develop their communication skills.

The interviews of 77 project management Master students also indicate that Norwegian project owners could afford to improve their motivation of the project team and support the project when necessary.

In this area less than six out of ten (56.9 per cent) receive a passing grade, while more than four out of ten (43.1 per cent) do not have an adequate ability to motivate project members.

Award-winning research

Earlier this year Professor Andersen presented the results of the study at the Asia Pacific Research Conference on Project Management 2010, which was held in Melbourne, Australia.

The BI researcher received the award for Best Paper at the conference.

"Gratifying acknowledgement of work that seeks to achieve greater awareness of the role of the project owner in project management," he says.

Audun Farbrot | alfa
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