Who wants the project executed and who has the will, energy and power to make things happen? Strong project ownership is a vital source of energy to a project. Strong ownership goes beyond formal responsibilities by actively defining, defending and supporting major project activities from the start to the end (ref 1)

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Project ownership is so important because: it has some unique capabilities that cannot be replaced: Ownership of the business case is the most important thing including the definition of overall goals, timeline, budget, and risk profile. But it also means  Ownership of funding for the project, Ownership of organizational prioritizations including allocation of key resources, and ownership of changes required to make the project a success. 

Who has project ownership: Some organizations have formalized management roles with titles as project owner and project sponsor. It is key to have the key owners defined. In many projects, the actual ownership is however spread to more persons. It, therefore, makes sense to look at a broader ownership landscape. The broader landscape can for example include board, vendors, resource and domain owners, and customer representatives.

Steering group:  Establishing a project steering committee can be an efficient way to make the different ownership roles work together about the task of owning the project. Further, a steering committee makes one clear interface between the project (the project manager) and the owners. The steering committee may consist of a number of different key roles e.g., chairman representing management, senior user representative, and senior vendor representative (internal or external). More roles may be involved. Small steering groups with 3-5 persons are usually more efficient than bigger steering groups.

Invest in ownership involvement: It makes a lot of sense to keep ownership close to the project. First of all to make sure that the project is actually delivering in accordance with the demands and expectations. Second to get the special contribution that only ownership can provide. This is usually easier to obtain when there are a regular dialogue regarding the progress, needs, challenges, and risks in the project.

Special “rules” for ownership involvement: Project owners are an important group of stakeholders that need to be handled with careful attention. They are special from other stakeholders in several ways. They can, more than other stakeholders, dictate how they want to be involved. Align with them how they shall be involved. Their time and availability is often a critical constraint (so book them well in advance). They need to receive the information required to perform the ownership roles (often in summarized form without too many details)

Ref 1: Tres Roeder, 2013, Managing Project Stakeholders, Wiley

Ensure project ownership
Define ownership roles and responsibilities
Be clear on the owner's level of authority
Define and align owners involvement (estimate, practical, role)
Book regular meetings with the project owner
Set up the steering group
Define the role of the steering group
Define steering group representatives
Define the format for steering groups meetings (material, length, follow-up)
Book steering group meetings well in advance
Build management support
Re-establish project ownership
Re-alignment expectations with the project owner
Involve management in critical issue
Project is on the limit or exceeding sponsors level of authority

Problem: The project sponsor is not able to take the required decisions regarding the project but needs to involve additional stakeholders in decision making.

Consequence: Decision processes may become time-consuming and additional stakeholders may question both aspects of the project or the relevance of the project in general.

Inefficient steering committee

Problem: The steering committee does not function as owners of the project by being able to set the overall direction, define success criteria, take key decisions, and ensure funding of the project.

Consequence: Important tasks and aspects required for project success and outside the authority of project management is not being handled.

Project ownership underestimates the effort

Problem: The project is more demanding than expected e.g. taking a longer time, requiring more resources, additional funding, and more direct effort from the ownership.

Consequence: The ownership is required to take key decisions regarding value vs. effort including own involvement in the project

Insufficient sponsor and owner involvement

Problem: The project do not get the required commitment and support from the ownership in the form of the required funding, direction for the work, involvement in change management activities, or engagement of top management

Consequence: Important tasks and aspects required for project success and outside the authority of project management is not being handled.

Unclear project ownership

Problem: It is not clear who wants the project to be executed, setting the overall direction, defining success criteria, taking key decisions and is funding the project.

Consequence: The project may not be following the right direction, may spend to a long time on decision making, and lack important support required for success