One of the basic responsibilities of the project manager is to assign work to team members. However, some project managers are not always clear on the work to be done and the person that is responsible. This causes uncertainty in the team and can result in some activities running late.

In fact, if you have managed projects for a while, you have probably run into this situation. You might ask a team member the status of a critical assignment and they may tell you that they did not realize that they were assigned to the activity. A good way to test whether your directions and assignments are clear is to ask team members what they are responsible for completing in the next two weeks. This is not something you need to do with every team member every week. However, it can be valuable to ask once in a while, or when a critical activity is due, just to validate whether you are assigning activities clearly. If the team members know what is expected of them, chances are that you are effectively and clearly assigning the work. However, if team members give you different answers than you expect, it may mean that you need to work on being clearer and more precise.

If team members understand the work perfectly but don’t deliver on time, you may have a performance problem. If they deliver the wrong work to you, on time, you also have a problem. However, if the team member is not clear about the work they have been assigned or the due date, then the project manager may have a communication problem.

When you assign work to team members, be clear about the following:

Activity name(s), from the schedule

An explanation, if necessary, of what the work entails

Start-date and end-date. The project manager needs to be clear on when the activity can start (probably immediately) and when the activity is due. If the team member cannot meet the deadline date, he needs to let the project manager know as soon as possible.

Estimated effort hours (optional). The project manager should communicate the estimated hours required to complete the activity. This is usually of secondary importance compared to the due date. If the team member cannot complete the activities within the estimated effort hours, he needs to let the project manager know as soon as possible. However, on most projects, if the activity is completed on schedule, it is not as important if the work took more or fewer actual effort hours.

Estimated costs (optional). If the team member cannot complete the work within the cost estimate, he needs to let the project manager know as soon as possible. If the activity only includes labor, the cost overrun will be directly related to an overage in labor hours. However, if there are non-labor charges involved in the activity, it is possible that these non-labor costs could be over budget.

Deliverable. The team member needs to understand the deliverable or work component (a portion of a larger deliverable) that he is expected to complete. If there are quality criteria to meet, the team member should know these quality requirements.

Dependencies. Make sure the team member knows his relationship with other activities – ones that are waiting on him or ones that must be completed before his can start.

Other resources. If multiple resources are working on the same activities, they must all understand who the team members are and they need to know who has overall responsibility for the activity.

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