Leadership

Be clear when assigning work to team members

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

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 of some activities running late. If you've managed projects for a while, you've probably run into this situation. For example, you ask a team member the status of a critical assignment and he tells you that he did not realize that he was responsible for 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. If 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.

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If team members understand the work perfectly, but don't deliver on time, you may have a performance problem. However, if the team member is not clear about the work they have been assigned or the due date, 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 workplan.
  • An explanation. Describe, if necessary, what the work entails.
  • Start date and estimated 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 or she needs to let you 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 or she needs to let you know as soon as possible. Estimated effort hours are most important if the team member is a contractor or the employees charge-back their time to the client organization. Then the efforts hours will be related to the estimated costs below.
  • Estimated costs (optional). If the team member needs to manage the cost associated with an activity, he or she needs to know this number as well. If the team member cannot complete the work within the cost estimate, he or she needs to let the project manager know as soon as possible.
  • Deliverable. The team member needs to understand the deliverable or work component (a portion of a larger deliverable) that they are expected to complete. If there are quality criteria to meet, the team member should know these quality requirements as well.
  • Dependencies. Make sure the team members knows their relationship with other activities - ones that are waiting on them or ones that must be complete before theirs can start.
  • Other resources. If multiple people are working on the same activity, they must all understand who their team members are and they need to know who has overall responsible for the activity.

This seems like a lot of information, and some of it is optional. However, this is the type of information that needs to be communicated to make sure that the team member knows what they are accountable for.

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