Earlier in my career, I was assigned as the project manager of “mission impossible” software projects on the regular. Just like Tom Cruise, if you get the first Mission Impossible right, you just keep getting cast in similar but more and more impossible situations. The 5 things great team members do differently and the Top 10 summary responsibilities list below come from leading many teams in many situations from software to engineering to quality to environmental health and safety to legal compliance to secret top executive change-the-company evaluation projects. As you can imagine, I have a story for every one of them. (I’ll spare you the novel now, since many are in my upcoming book.)
Many organizations are running far too lean today. In our modern world, project team members are not sitting on their hands, waiting for tasks to be assigned to them. Rather, they are often "asked" to join projects in addition to their already full schedules. To get motivated, it's good practice to be sure you and your team members understand "what's in it for WE" just as much as "what's in it for ME." Ask questions like, "why is this a great project for our organization," so that everyone can connect to a bigger reason for doing this work. Share what you personally hope to get out of the project with your team lead and/or project manager, so that they can set expectations with you and/or help support and position you to get the experience you are hoping for. If you don't ask, you have a much lower likelihood of getting what you want. Similarly, I also ask team members to share their concerns confidentially, so that I can either put their minds at ease or include addressing those concerns in the plan.
A big complaint that I've heard is that team members are told what to do and how long it should take. Why are estimates handed over to team members? Because historically it has been the job of the most senior person to create task estimates. Generally a senior, experienced person can complete a task faster and with fewer issues than someone who is still learning. But, how often does that senior person who created the estimate get assigned to that task? When they are not assigned, are estimates adjusted for the person who needs more time because the senior person needs to coach them or they require more time to figure it out? Unfortunately in many instances, the person assigned is “asked” to meet this unfair and totally unrealistic estimate that s/he had no input in creating. This feels just as motivating as when a parent says "go clean your room and have it done to my satisfaction before dinner."
So, in agile environments, rather than the most senior person creating estimates for tasks, based on only his or her assumptions, and then handing that work over to others who could never complete the work as quickly as predicted, the team creates the estimates together.
Engaging the team in a collaborative process to assist in planning the work that they will be responsible for executing has additional benefits beyond the "feel good" factor. Folks with fresh eyes may see a simpler way, while more seasoned souls may have seen this movie before and know just what to do. Everyone gets a common understanding of the task, they align on the approach and create a corresponding estimate that feels right to everyone.
Regardless of how your organization does it, a project team often has input into “planning the work” and then, they are expected to execute that plan flawlessly. Meanwhile, Murphy’s Law is alive and well, the world continues to spin and life happens, which means that teams need to get comfortable with “working the plan.” Your project manager tends to be the owner and steward of the almighty plan, but that doesn’t mean you should declare, “that’s not my job!”
As mentioned in our last post: team leads and project managers have a lot of responsibilities, but reading minds is NOT in the job description. Team members who work WITH team leads or project managers to help them understand the work, the things that can go wrong (risks), team member strengths/preferences/hopes/concerns and all of the task estimates versus actuals (overs and unders) are critical. If the ship sinks, we all get wet. Everyone should be on the lookout for an iceberg, feel comfortable shouting out when one is spotted and make absolute sure the navigator (project manager) is aware of it.
Project Team Member Role
A project team consists of subject matter experts responsible for
“planning the work and working the plan.”
Top 10 Typical Responsibilities (Expectations)
Understand project objectives and your expected contribution.
Accurately estimate the work and report progress.
Raise issues and risks that may impact accomplishing agreed-upon activities and/or the overall objectives of the project.
Ensure availability is included in the project schedule before the baseline is finalized.
Direct change requests to the project manager no matter how minor they may seem.
Especially when on the critical path, keep your commitments (or the entire project will be impacted).
Employ a positive, problem-solving attitude. Trust that the “problem of the day” will be resolved tomorrow.
Communicate current status carefully outside of the team. Have your elevator speech ready.
Recognize that teaming is a process.
Be the best team member you can be. Employ patience, respect and help your teammates.
I encourage team members and project leaders to use this top ten list as a discussion starter in the beginning of the project. If there is anything unwritten that is expected of the team, it’s best to find out before the ship gets out to sea and everyone is on top of each other trying to keep the boat afloat and going in the right direction. While you are safely dockside, discuss expectations, and even better, write down your own top 10 so that everyone knows the plan to have a great voyage together.
Projects can be a wonderful experience when everyone knows their roles and what is expected of one another. Teamwork really can make the dream work. Avoid keeping everyone in the dark. Nightmares lurk there.
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About the Author: Dawn Mahan, PMP, is the Founder & CEO of PMOtraining, LLC., and loves working with savvy leaders and their teams to help them accomplish more and stress less. It’s her philosophy about what project management can do for the world, as well as the title of her upcoming book.
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