A successful SharePoint project requires a mix of skills and disciplines, but above all needs a project leader.

I've worked on lots of SharePoint implementation projects over the years. I've worked for end clients, and agency partners. I've helped build Intranets using SharePoint 2013, which have then been rolled out to tens of thousands of users, and I've worked on SharePoint websites with minuscule budgets. I've been part of huge successes and massive failures.

These experiences have taught me a few lessons. But one keeps coming back to me time and time again:

“A successful SharePoint project has a single leader who drives success."

Let’s consider a few other names for this Leader:

  • Product owner
  • Project manager
  • Solution consultant

Duties of a SharePoint Project Leader

The problem with this list is these roles mean different things to different people. A product owner might be responsible for functionality, or quality control. A project manager might focus on resourcing, money and deadlines. A solution consultant might focus on requirements gathering.

So instead let’s consider some of the duties this leader should fulfill:

  • They are ultimately responsible for the solution being delivered
  • They are responsible for the project team, and its various activities
  • They have varying degrees of input on technical and functional conversations
  • They have varying degrees of input on design and usability decisions
  • They are involved right at the outset of the project, and stay involved after a successful launch

In short they are a bit of an all-rounder, involved in all aspects of the project. That isn't to say they make every decision, or that they even could. But they know what is happening and why. They know when to delegate, and they know how to listen.

A good project leader leaves specific activities and decisions to the relevant expert. An architect may be required to ensure the project is on a sound technical footing. A graphic designer may be required to create a custom interface. A solutions consultant or business analyst will almost certainly be required to define the use of SharePoint features.

A typical SharePoint project is a huge team effort, requiring a mix of different disciplines and skills. These skills can include business, technical, infrastructure, UX/UI, training, adoption, and more. The leader function I am describing doesn't need to possess all these skills -- that's not possible. But they need to be able pull together a team of people who do, and ensure they deliver the right solution.

It is at this point that many people will say “you are describing a project manager,“ and I myself have thought this many times in the past. However it isn't quite so simple. A project manager might be able to fulfill this role, but they generally have their own areas of specialism (resourcing, budgets, reporting) which are quite different to that of a project leader.

So who can fulfill the project leader role? It varies from project to project. It might be the business analyst, it might be the technical architect, it might be the project manager -- but only if they can do the role in addition to their usual one. If not, it should be a dedicated person. Often this decision will depend on the size and complexity of the project itself.

How to Choose a Project Leader

Here are my top five tips for choosing a project leader:

  1. If at all possible use a dedicated person.
  2. If the project team is big, or involves multiple companies, then consider someone with strong people management skills.
  3. If the project is technically challenging or functionally complex, then consider someone with good SharePoint knowledge.
  4. Resist the temptation to simply default to the project manager, unless they have particular experience in this type of role.
  5. A good project leader needs to feel responsible for the overall solution. This might be because they have invested financially, emotionally or are simply that type of employee.

Editor's Note: Read more of Chris's SharePoint thoughts in SharePoint Online or On Premises: Who is Microsoft Betting On?