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Roles and Responsibilities
By Dave Gordon

My wife and I recently traveled to Seattle for a wedding. Our daughter-in-law was the matron of honor, and our granddaughter was one of the flower girls. Since Abbie is only two and a half years old, this was her first wedding. Fortunately, there was another flower girl, who went first and modeled the appropriate behavior. She walked the length of the aisle, scattering rose petals along the way. Abbie followed for a few steps, and then stopped to look at the rose petals on the floor. Being OCD (like her Dad), she started picking them up and putting them in her basket. Not quite what Mom had expected when she gave her the job, but the audience loved it.

Roles and Responsibilities

For many people, being assigned to work on a project is a novelty. They have regular jobs, where they have well-understood, routine practices and procedures. However, their additional project duties may not be clear to them. When in doubt, they may default to the behaviors that have made them successful in their regular job (like cleaning up the floor after play). This default may not be beneficial to the project, especially for tasks in the critical path. Consequently, it is important to make the responsibilities, procedures, and project relationships clear for the people assigned to each role, especially if they’ve never worked on a similar project. There are several tools available for clarifying roles and responsibilities:

  • Project Organization Chart – A simple hierarchical diagram of the reporting relationships can usually answer most questions, especially on a cross-functional team.
  • Role Description – Many project charters or project human resource management plans have a narrative description of the duties and responsibilities of each role. This can prevent confusion over who is responsible for what activities.

  • RACI Chart – A table listing the work packages or deliverables, identifying who is responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed for each, usually adds enough structure for most teams to establish a well-understood workflow.

  • Samples and Templates – Many “new” tasks are best understood by looking at the result of a previously completed task, or a fill-in-the-blanks form. This is especially true for work packages resulting in a document deliverable.

Minimizing Overlap of Responsibilities

A primary goal of planning for the human resources aspects of a project should be to ensure all tasks are covered, exactly once. If two people are responsible for the same task, there is a reasonable chance that neither of them will do it. Use the RACI chart to fine-tune who participates in the production of each project deliverable. Ensure that all work assignments are unambiguous, and all participants understand how the work in progress will be handed off. Work with the team to define cues, and follow up on transitions from one person or group to the next. And don’t forget to note completion – I like Kanban boards, because they make work in queue, in progress, and completed visible to the workers.

Coaching

Of course, nothing beats coaching. Whether it comes from the project manager or another experienced team member, a bit of guidance can go a long way. Any task performed for the first time naturally raises questions, before, during, and after. I regularly work on SaaS or software implementation projects with people who will only replace their enterprise software once or twice in their career, so the coaching is less about developing skills than it is about getting them through the assigned task.

Effectively communicating roles and responsibilities can make the project a positive experience for the entire team, while ensuring the timeliness and quality of the deliverables. It takes a bit more care in planning, but it makes execution go much more smoothly.

Dave Gordon is a project manager with over twenty years of experience in implementing human capital management and payroll systems, including premises-based ERP solutions, like PeopleSoft and ADP Enterprise, and SaaS solutions, like Workday. He has an MS in IT with a concentration in project management, and a BS in Business. He also holds the project management professional (PMP) designation, as well as professional designations in human resources (GPHR and SPHR) and in benefits administration (CEBS). You can read more from Dave on his blog.

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