“Who is free to work on this task?”
That’s something all project managers will hear at some time or another. And it isn’t the best way to allocate work to your project team members. After all, would you have brain surgery done by a surgeon who specialises in feet just because he or she happened to be free that day? Of course not.
Would you ask a colleague to give a presentation to the board, just because they happened to have some spare time? And regardless of the fact their expertise is in requirements analysis and they’ve never presented to senior management before?
That would be a recipe for disaster – you’d both end up looking foolish.
Resource allocation is one of the trickier aspects of leading a high-performing project team. You want to make sure that everyone is fully occupied, but on tasks that play to their strengths. From time to time that might mean someone has to work on something that isn’t their core area of expertise. But provided they have the support required, that could be a good development opportunity.
However, I strongly believe that availability is not a skill set. Assuming you have the luxury of being able to access a range of resources with varying skills, how should you allocate tasks? Here are my five tips for working out who is best placed to do the work.
Top of the list is skill. Does the person have the skills required to actually carry out this project task and complete it successfully? If so, they are probably the best person for the job.
Has the person in question done this sort of task before? If so, they will have the relevant experience and the confidence to do it again. They probably won’t need much support from you.
If they haven’t done it before, but you believe they have the skills to do the work, then they will need more support. They could still complete the task successfully, as long as the support framework is in place to help them get there.
This guide to delegating will help you support your team when they take on new tasks.
Just because someone has the skills and the experience doesn’t mean that they are interested enough in the work to do the task well.
If they have done the same task a thousand times before and really want to spend some time building their experience, then they aren’t going to be interested. You can allocate the work to them but it might not get done to a very good quality or in a timely fashion.
Talk to your team members before you give them work. Assess their level of motivation to take the tasks on. I know it’s not reasonable to only let people work on the fun, interesting stuff, but you can at least factor it into your decision making.
It’s not practical to only work on the fun stuff, but you can factor people’s interests it into your decision making.
Recently I volunteered for a project everyone else was reluctant to take on. I said yes because it sounded interesting. I’m not sure I would make the same decision again, knowing how challenging that work turned out to be, but I don’t regret putting my name in the frame.
Being interested in the work helps keep morale high and makes people feel that they are getting opportunities to develop.
Yes, you do have to consider how much a resource costs before allocating tasks! The person best placed to do the work may be far too expensive for your project budget, so you may have to compromise.
Equally, it isn’t worth using a highly paid programme manager to do basic admin tasks. If you have someone on the team in a project co-ordinator role or PMO support, it would be more cost-effective to use that person.
Where is the task going to be carried out? With a lot of project work it doesn’t much matter and your team members could work from anywhere. But there are likely to be some tasks where location does play a part. For example, configuring servers on site, or working at a client location for a length of time.
You obviously want to pick someone who is the best person for the job. However, if you have a choice of resource, let location play a part in the decision-making process. It’s cheaper if you don’t have to pay travel expenses and it’s probably more convenient for the resource concerned if the work is local to where they are normally based.
It can work the other way too: if you are offering a juicy overseas placement, or the chance to live away from home for a period of time, then you may find volunteers coming forward for the opportunity.
If you are using people on the team who are remote from your office, check out these tips for successful virtual meetings.
Finally, you should take availability into account! OK, it isn’t the most important criteria when it comes to assigning work to team members, but it does matter.
There isn’t any point in assigning a task to someone who is already overloaded while other team members sit around waiting for work to come in. Instead, use the task as a good opportunity to improve the skills of someone else. The work could help others learn something completely new, like budget management.
Capacity planning can be the secret to successful projects, but only if you take everything else into account too.
There are lots of factors that come into play when assigning project tasks to team members. You probably do it unconsciously. But every so often it does help to think through why you are giving a task to someone. Take a moment to check that they really are the most appropriate person for the job at that time. You might be surprised to see other people’s names surface too.
A version of this article first appeared on the 2080 Strategy Execution blog way back in 2014! Shared here with permission.
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