Dear PM Advisor. September 3, 2012

Dear PM Advisor, How do I know when to do something versus delegate the activity to someone else? What is the best way to track those delegated tasks?

Overwhelmed in New York.

Dear Overwhelmed,

Care to guess the most frequent complaint of new Project Managers? "I have all this responsibility and no authority so I have to do everything myself since no-one listens to me when I try to delegate." I had the same problem myself when I first became a PM. All of a sudden I was put in charge of a project full of my peers but they wouldn't do what I asked so I ended up doing extra work to keep the project on track.

The problem is that Project Managers do not have the power to delegate. There is a big difference between a Functional Manager and a Project Manager. People report to the same Functional Manager for many years and he writes their review at the end of the year. Only a Functional Manager can delegate.

What a Project Manager can do is determine responsibility for an activity when planning the project with a full team. See this post for all the details but it comes down to the team members taking responsibility on an activity by activity basis for everything on the Work Breakdown Structure. As a team you break down the project into every activity required. Then you ask team members: 'Who is involved in the completion of this activity?' After you mark those volunteers on the responsibility matrix you ask the second question: 'Which of you will take responsibility for completing this task on schedule and budget?' One of the team members will take this responsibility. If the activity falls within your functional responsibility or you feel like doing it yourself, you will volunteer. Since the Responsibility Matrix is large and graphical, it quickly becomes clear to the whole team who is working hard on this project and who isn't. Volunteering becomes easier as the session goes on.

It takes some doing to get people into the mode of volunteering for work but two things work in your favor here:

  1. They have already been committed to this project by their functional managers (for a certain percentage of their time).
  2. They are normally responsible for this activity since it fits within their functional responsibilities.

New activities will appear during the execution of the project and these will also require a responsible person. Instead of returning to the Responsibility Matrix, you simply bring up the activity during a status meeting and ask the same two questions. 'Who will work on the task and who will take responsibility?'

Once you have gotten the team member's commitments to do this work, you need to keep this commitment visible. Post that Responsibility Matrix in a prime location. Ensure that the responsible person's name appears on that activity in the Gantt chart.

Your second question was about how you track those tasks. I answered that above with the Gantt chart but I'm guessing you wanted to know more. 'How do I get people to live up to those commitments?' By having team members commit to activities in front of their peers, your job is made a lot easier. Commitments made in front of others are more lasting. (That's why marriages, inductions to office etc. are made publicly.) These commitments are more lasting than those made one on one with the Project Manager. And infinitely better than commitments made by others on their behalf. So you need to change your method from delegation to personal commitments to personal commitments made publicly. Then, when an activity is about to start, remind the team member that they committed to completing that task and ask them to clear their desk and get that activity done when scheduled. People will respond to this.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

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