Project Practitioners > Resist the urge to have everyone do everything

Resist the urge to have everyone do everything

By Margaret de Haan

In a prior one of my blogs "times are tough" I mentioned the joy of doing more with less. I realize that this is a current fact of life, but I have to stress the need to continue to match people to tasks based on skill set. I am seeing a ton of ineffectiveness and inefficiencies happen on Projects as there are fewer people to go around, so everyone needs to pick up more – I get that – but let's try to do that intelligently so we aren't trying to force a square peg in a round hole.

So how do we balance the extra tasks that someone is going to take on if you've decreased the Project team by 2 members, but still have the same volume of work? Well my first suggestion is to assess what (meaning who) you have to work with. What are their strengths, what do they enjoy doing, and what are they truly unable to do without failing? In the throes of panic I have seen tasks that require a surgeon to perform, being thrown at the equivalent of a butcher and then inevitably fallout is created that results in damage control being required. I suggest digging into the information available on the Project team members, ask the questions and see what you can dig up.

Many Project teams have gone through some kind of profiling to determine team dynamics, and that may exist somewhere in the HR department, or with an associate's manager. Ask around and see what you can get, and if nothing exists I would bet that Human Resources has some form of tools available to help. This information is invaluable in determining what additional tasks are a good fit for someone, versus what they will ultimately fail at. Just like it doesn't make sense to have a butcher doing surgery, its overkill to have a surgeon trimming meat. Sometimes you have to do it, but try to be cognizant of fitting the tasks to the skill set, because if you don't the risks to both performance and quality of output increase drastically.

Another tool that I have used is brainstorming with the team. In the interest of continuous improvement, once you know what tasks are to be absorbed, it's good to get everyone together and see how you can fit these pieces into the existing processes that belong to the team members that are left. What makes sense? Can we do this differently than it was being done and save some time? Also, gaining buy-in from the team by allowing them input into the redistribution of work goes a long way towards keeping the team happy. And keeping the team not only happy, but focused on the work and not on concerns about the status of their positions, is incredibly important.

I would also suggest being proactive with management about the plans for the team prior to a reduction in head count. How safe is the Project team, and for larger organizations, what's going to happen to the PMO? The goal here should be that the Project Manager has some input into who gets let go. Management tends to focus on job titles and dollars when making cuts, without input you may not be able to save the highly compensated employee who happens to do the work of six people. I would get assertive with this, make sure that your top producers are safe, decreasing the payroll by a particular amount does nothing if the end result is that you are unable to get the work completed with any semblance of quality.

I would say that as Project Managers we have a ton of challenges already without losing valuable team members but in the current economic climate we may not have a choice. But even if we have to swallow doing the same amount of work with less resources, we can do a great job of spreading out the tasks in a way that makes it easier for everyone to work a little harder, and concurrently maintain a cohesive team.

Related Links
Stepping up involvement with your team through Management By Walking Around can help you spot and help overloaded team members. Carl Pritchard encourages us to redefine our expectations when things don't seem as fun as they used to. For PMOs, a Project Manager skills inventory can be helpful in making sure the right PMs are assigned to the right projects. Bringing someone in part time to help carry the load? Make sure they have air, food, and water.

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