First, let’s watch a video about what the first meeting with a team member should deliver. Next we’ll discuss an example of a team member assignment that, unfortunately, is typical. Then we’ll talk about the right way to make team assignments.
The goal of this example project is to improve the quality of the applicants that Human Resources refers to line managers for job interviews. The project manager gets a phone call from the project sponsor asking how the job applicant improvement project is going. The project manager explains that they are starting work today. The project manager is a bit uncertain about how to start but takes a first step by asking one of the team members to stop by their cubicle to discuss the project. The project manager asks the team member to interview all 65 of the company’s first level supervisors about the quality of the job applicants Human Resources is sending them for job interviews. Leading Teams Main Page
Team Member Assignment: Round 1
The team member returns to the project manager’s cubicle a week later and says, “I finished the last of the 64 interviews this morning. One of the supervisors is in the hospital so I couldn’t interview her.”
The PM thanks the team and asks about the results of the interviews.
The team member says, “You certainly were correct. The hiring supervisors are very unhappy with the quality of the applicants referred by the Human Resources department. 70% of them rate the applicants as poor or unsatisfactory in terms of meeting the job specifications. Only 10% rate the applicants as excellent. We certainly have a problem to solve here.”
The project manager says to the team member, “That’s not what I wanted. I want to know specifically what is wrong with the applicants the HR department sends them to interview. Please go get me the information I want.”
The team member nods at the project manager, turns and walks out, thinking to himself, “If you wanted data about what was wrong with the applicants, you should’ve told me that.”
Team Member Assignment: Round 2
With a marked lack of enthusiasm, the team member proceeds to again interview the 65 hiring supervisors (the last one was home from the hospital). The supervisors are unhappy with the team member because they feel they’ve contributed enough time to the project. Several remark to him, “You really should decide what you need before you waste people’s time.” The team member says nothing but nods agreement.
Seven days later the team member returns to the project manager’s cubicle. The project manager sternly asks, “Well did you get the assignment right this time?”
The team member drops a 1 inch thick report on the project manager’s desk and says, “You asked me to find out what was wrong with the applicants and I have done that. Here are all the flaws of the 76 applicants that the HR department has sent to hiring supervisors in the past year. There are 1576 things wrong with those applicants.”
The PM rises to his feet, snapping, “This is useless! We can’t correct all the problems on this enormous list. I need to know the top 10 things that are wrong with the applicants. I can’t believe you didn’t understand that when we last talked. You should be able to figure these things out for yourself. But if you can’t, you are responsible for asking questions until you are clear about your assignment.”
Team Member Assignment: Round 3
Without saying a word, the team member walks out and begins another round of interviews with the same supervisors. The team member’s lack of enthusiasm is now even worse than that of the supervisors. Also, the team member’s attention to detail is far below his usual work standard. As a result, the data gathered is incomplete and full of errors.
Team Member Assignment: Who Is At Fault?
Without question, the project manager did a miserable job defining this team member assignment. The team member was absolutely correct in following the assignment instructions. In each of the cycles through this stupidity, the team member did what the project manager told him to do. And that is the heart of the problem. The project manager was telling the team member what to do, not the deliverable of the team member assignment. If the PM had said, “Identify 10 categories of flaws with the job applicants that Human Resources sends to our supervisors,” the team member would have understood what the PM wanted them to produce and delivered the desired result the first time. But the project manager did not specify the deliverable he wanted. What he told the team member to do was insufficient.
Too often, project managers don’t think about exactly what they want the product of the team member assignment to be. It’s much easier to just give the team members a to do list and hope they get the assignment right. If they don’t, the project manager blames them rather than himself. When the PM doesn’t give their team members a clear and measurable deliverable for their assignment, they make the team members much less effective than they could be. When people have to guess about what a “good job” is, their work effort will be less focused than it should, and could, be. Additionally, if members of your project management team are uncertain about your expectations, they will naturally protect themselves by padding their estimates of the work’s cost and duration. They expect your unclear expectations to change and they want to avoid blame.
Team Member Assignment: The Right Way
Consistently successful project managers always make project team member assignments with clear performance expectations for every deliverable. If you want to be successful, you need to set a measurable performance expectation for every assignment you give your team members. As work progresses and the team produces their deliverables, you can compare what was actually produced to the original, measurable assignment. This allows you to spot and resolve problems early so your projects finish on time and within budget. And it lets your team members feel proud about doing a good job on their assignments. That builds team morale.
Learn how to make clear team member assignments in our online project management basics courses. You work privately with a expert project manager. You control the schedule and pace and have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish. Take a look at the courses in your specialty.
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