Beware of when "completed" activities aren't really completed

One of the primary responsibilities of a project manager is to assign work to team members and then monitor the work to see that it is completed on schedule.

It's important that team members understand the work to be completed, the estimated effort, the estimated cost (if applicable) and the estimated completion date. It's very possible that a team member will not agree with these estimates. And he or she may have a legitimate concern. No one likes to be held accountable for estimates on something in which they didn't have a chance to provide input.

I tried to acknowledge this concern by always giving the team members a chance to validate that the estimates were reasonable. If the team member didn't speak up, I assumed the estimates were valid.

After you assign the work, you need to monitor the work to make sure it's completed within expectations. There may be times when you encounter a situation where the team member says that an activity is complete when in reality it isn't quite done. This can happen for the following reasons:

• The activity should have been completed and the team member believes he needs just a short amount of time to complete it. He might say it's complete and then finish it up quickly, rather than deal with the consequences of the activity being late. This is a problem. The first time it occurs, you may need to provide some coaching. If it happens again, you might need to deal with the situation as the start of a performance problem.

• A deliverable is "completed" in draft form but not finalized and approved. The team member may say the work is complete, but when you check the deliverable you find it's incomplete or needs additional follow-up work. This may be a case of the team member trying to get away with the fact that the deadline date was missed. However, it may also be a legitimate misunderstanding of what it means to be complete. Just as with the prior example, the first time it occurs you may have an opportunity for coaching. If it happens again, it may be the sign of something more serious.

To avoid this problem, make sure that there is an approval process for all major deliverables, and that the workplan leaves time for the approval process and for rework based on feedback. Then there is no question that the deliverable is completed, because it has either been approved or it hasn't. The team member can no longer hide a partially completed deliverable, and there can be no misunderstanding as to whether the deadline date referred to completing the draft or having the deliverable finalized and approved.