Project Team Assignments – Deliverables Not "To Do’s"

The best project team assignments tell each team member exactly what end result you expect and how you will measure their performance against it. Too many project managers do a poor job of making project team assignments because they don’t define clear performance expectations. As a result, the project management team members don’t work as effectively as they could. And they often don’t deliver the results you want. The fault may be yours, not theirs. Project Teams Main Page

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
Dick’s Books on Amazon

In my years of working with project managers to improve their results, my most common comment is, “The assignments you give your team members are not clear.”

The response I always get is, “I’m telling them exactly what to do.”

“And that’s the problem,” I reply. “You’re telling them what to do, often in great detail. But you’re not telling them what you want them to produce. Specifically, you’re not telling them what your acceptance criteria are for their assignment.”

Project Team Assignments: Bad Example

Here is an example of what I mean. Let’s say there is a project to straighten up the supply room. The project manager says to a team member, “Clean up the supply room. It’s a stinking mess with things that should be thrown away and things that should be stored somewhere else. I need that done by 5 o’clock today.” Now that’s an awful assignment. The project manager mentioned some things “to do” and the time when the work was to be done. But they did not state the deliverable’s acceptance criteria, the assignment’s measure of success.

Project Team Assignments: Good Example

Here is an example of a much better assignment. “The supply room is a mess. I would like to see all the supplies on the shelves, organized by part number. Nothing should be on the floor.  And anything that is not on the office supply list should be sent to Purchasing for them to do with it as they see fit.” That assignment makes the deliverable’s acceptance criteria, the measure of success, very clear. The person doing the work knows exactly what result they have to produce. As importantly, they’ll know if they have succeeded or failed before the project manager inspects the supply room.

The team member assignments from successful project managers are deliverables with acceptance criteria. They aren’t a list of “to do’s.” This is particularly true of PMs who are managing large project teams or multiple projects. Vague project team assignments cause more damage as the size of the project increases.

Project Team Assignments: Harm Caused by “To Do’s”

When project team members have to guess about what a “good job” is, their work is going to be less focused than it should be. When your team members are uncertain about your expectations, they naturally try to protect themselves by padding their estimates. They expect your unclear expectations to change and they need protection from blame. Successful project managers avoid this problem by making project team assignments with clear performance expectations.

project team assignmentsYou need to set the performance expectation for every assignment you give to team members. As work progresses and the team produces their deliverables, you compare what was actually produced to the original assignment. Your team members’ behavior and performance are always affected by what you “count” in making assignments and evaluating performance. If the only thing you count is how long the team member takes to complete their task, they will focus only on finishing on time. They’ll pay less attention to the quality and business value of their deliverable.

You should define each task by its business value, the quality metric and the hours of work for the task. That is what matters on every assignment and it’s what you want the team members to focus on. You need to count what matters.

You can enhance your PM skills and master the art of making good project team assignments in our online project management courses. You work privately and individually 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.

At the beginning, when you and Dick talk to design your program and what you want to learn, you will select case studies that fit the kind of projects you want to manage. Chose you course and then select the which specialty case study from business, or marketing,  or construction, or healthcare, or consulting.  That way your case studies and project plans, schedules and presentations will fit your desired specialty.

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Author: Dick Billows, PMP

Dick has more than 25 years of project and program management experience throughout the US and overseas. Dick was a partner in the 4th largest professional firm and a VP in a Fortune 200 company. He trained and developed 100's of project managers using his methodology. Dick is the author of 14 books, over 300 articles and director/producer of 90 short project management training videos. He and a team of 25 project managers work with client companies & students across the US and in Europe, South America, Asia and the Middle East. They have assisted over 300 organizations in improving their project performance. Books by Dick Billows, PMP are on