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How many project roles in total?

Concept: always remember a simple principle: there are always more important roles in a project than you have identified. Roles with their interests in relation to your system and project always exist if there is a project. And you do not "develop/invent/imagine" them. You "identify" them, "find" them (discover).

When considering external, rather than team/internal roles separately, you should start not with two or three roles, but with approximately 15 (fifteen). Remember in this case, that if five people are playing the same activity role related to the project, it is still one role. Remember the "Dance of the Little Swans" from Swan Lake? There are four performers, but the culturally conditioned role of "little swan" is actually one, although there are four performers for this role in the show. In a smartphone game, there may be forty thousand players, but they all have the same role - "player." So, 15 external roles can actually be performed by a fairly large number of people. However, the opposite is also true: one agent can play multiple roles, so five people in a project can be actually performing ten very different roles for verification. An agent-player can also be a payer for the right to play, and a buyer (purchase registration goes through him) - although all these roles can be performed by different people, for example, if a child is playing, purchase registration goes to the mother, and the payment is made by the father.

One of the project managers told us that after easily identifying the first fifteen external roles, he realized where all his time was quietly going: 15 phone calls to the performers of these roles in a day, 10 minutes each, with 10 minutes of preparation for the call and processing the call results immediately gives 5 hours just to support adequate understanding of the current situation of coordinating their interests! And if there are problems of the project to be solved with these roles, then 10 minutes of conversation is clearly not enough. Since no one explicitly tracked the external roles in the project, this time was going "unseen," it was spent unconsciously, not reflected in the plans, the manager's resources were not allocated and not taken into account for this work. Awareness regarding roles and their interests, planning work with agents-in-roles for the purpose of coordinating their interests - they are important!

In the context of dancing::method/culture/practice/process/activity (we taboo the word "dance" because it could mean either "dance form/style," "dance performance," or "dance culture"), roles can be distinguished separately[1]:

  • Dancer (who actually dances - performs "dancing"),
  • the role of a "partner" (only in certain types/styles of dances where they exist! In other types/styles of dance, they may not exist, or conversely, there may be a whole ensemble/team/crew with multiple dancers, and for the lap dance style, it's not so much a "partner" as it is a "client." In social/partnered styles there are separate roles of leader and follower, with gender-neutral aspects[2]),
  • spectator (but only in dances where there is an audience. For example, in social kizomba, there is no audience expected, partners in the couple dance only for each other),
  • choreographer (responsible for composition and sequence of movements),
  • dance coach/teacher (teaches how to dance),
  • music editor/DJ (selects music),
  • organizer of dance events (parties, battles/competitions, concerts, seminars/festivals, etc.),
  • often included in this list are a photographer (at parties) or videographer (for concert performances and battles),
  • for staged dance styles (ballet, stage dances) there will also be a costume designer,
  • often also a makeup artist/stylist.

This is also not an exhaustive list! For example, in sports dances there are also

  • judges on the panel,
  • a scorekeeper (calculates the results of the judges' work),
  • an announcer (announces the results of the judges' work).

Of course, these are just roles, and there may be fewer performers of the roles. If I dance-improvise on my own in front of the mirror at home, then I perform many of these roles myself, simultaneously, or not at the same time. For example, first I will be the music editor/DJ, choosing the music, and then the dancer and a spectator, also acting as a choreographer - creating my own dance routine/performance. Or there could be more agent-performers: many spectators, and even delegating the division of labor, splitting the current set of roles of performing a role into sub-roles and assigning these sub-roles to different performers: the music editor/DJ splits into the artistic director of the event (sets the music format, its stylistic direction, and checks compliance with them by the DJ, the word "director" here should not confuse, it is not related to a job title) and the DJ themselves, directly implementing the assigned musical format and stylistic direction.

When a systems thinker thinks about a system, the projects related to it for its creation and use, he remembers that the system's success depends precisely on how the interests/preferences are taken into account for all participating roles. And he also remembers that he::the performer is not a neutral "thinker outside the fight" but also performs some role in the project, he::the role has preferences/interests, which he wants to fulfill. Do not forget to consider yourself as a role, as well as remember to show other agent-participants in the project, what "position" you have taken!

Often from the numerous synonyms of a project/work/practical/organizational/engineering/cultural/strategic role (especially an external project role) the term "stakeholder" is chosen, common in English literature. Moreover, in English literature, they may separately regard an agent-in-role as a stakeholder and separately acknowledge the presence of this person's role as a stakeholder role, but this differentiation is by no means universal! For example, ISO 42010:2022 reports: "stakeholder: role, position, individual, organization, or classes thereof, having an interest, right, share, or claim, in an entity of interest. EXAMPLE: End users, operators, acquirers, owners, suppliers, architects, developers, builders, maintainers, regulators, taxpayers, certifying agencies, and markets." How many people do you think will read here that these are examples of roles, and how many will consider these as agents-in-roles, given the enumeration of "roles," "positions," and the agent/individual with an organization (or even their classes)? How many will be confused by "markets" as an example - is it a role, position, individual, organization, or their class? From our course's perspective, this list is similar to "metallic crosses, Catholic crosses." Of course, we use materials from international standards in our course, but we urge caution in dealing with them and always apply an "ontology filter" when reading them, catching ontological jingles.

We acknowledge that the term "stakeholder" (and much less frequently "stakeholder role") is already widespread in the Russian language, but we avoid using it in our course. The term "stakeholder" easily confuses the role with the actor/performer of the role, and even the job position. "Stakeholder Hamlet" and "Stakeholder John Doe" sound the same to the Russian ear, from this moment on, the thinking regarding the role is quietly turned off, and the usual everyday thinking "about people" remains, not even as actors, but as agents who not only play labor roles as actor-personas but also as organisms eat, sleep, get sick, and go to the toilet.

"Stakeholders" start to be perceived as "just people, as they are, and for some reason sometimes organizations." With such usage of language, it is easy to assume that these "just people" make decisions due to mischief, bad character, mood, rather than due to role preferences. No, roles cannot be mischievous, they are just roles, not people! Their interests are role-related interests, and their decisions follow from the role method. If a strength engineer believes that a system component cannot be made thinner than 4 cm for the chosen material, and everyone else resists because this decision goes against their interests, it is not his opinion as an agent-with-a-bad-character, but the role's opinion!

If agents, roles, positions are confused - there is no methodological (about methods of work/activity) thinking, and consequently, no systemic thinking! Therefore, we recommend using terminology with roles, as it is more reliable, but we will talk about "actor," "agent," "performer," "engineer," and even "worker" with the understanding of an actor-in-a-role, executing work according to a method, working in a culture, in a style, performing a practice/activity/"type of work"/"type of engineering" or even a strategy (as the selected goal method of work). All these are synonyms with slight nuances.


  1. https://vk.com/@buffdance-rasskaz-o-sistemnyh-urovnyah-v-tance ↩︎

  2. https://jenabl.wordpress.com/2017/05/17/inclusivity-and-dance-terminology/ ↩︎