Posted by: Craig Harding | October 21, 2009

What is the Project Manager’s Role in Assigning work?

What is the Project Manager’s Role in Assigning work?

Once you have broken your project work down into tasks, estimated the time it will take to complete them and identified who is on the project team, you’re ready for another key PM responsibility. You must ensure all tasks are assigned to specific individuals on the team. In many cases, some or all of the core team will have been assigned to the project at the same time you were. If it is a small project, there will be few decisions about who will do what task – there will be only one person with the capability. In larger projects you may have some choices to make about who is assigned what work. Even if task assignments are a forgone conclusion, you are still responsible to ensure every team member knows what his or her task deliverables are, what the scheduled start and end dates are, and how many hours are allocated for each task.

One of the tools you can use to communicate work assignments is a “turnaround” document. This is really an excerpt from the project plan that shows the schedule of all tasks for an individual resource. If you are using MS Project, there is are several automated reports that can be used as a Turnaround document. If you are using an Excel spreadsheet, you must produce a report or table that contains the rows specific to an individual resource. When you prepare a Turnaround document for each team member, it should include pre-printed columns showing:

  • The resource name and the group (e.g., Client or consultant, HR or Payroll team)
  • The date of the data contained in the document and the date the document is generated
  • A task reference number that will map back to the overall project plan
  • A listing of the tasks assigned to the resource
  • The estimated effort for each assigned task,
  • The scheduled start date

Once you have taken a first pass at the work assignments for your team members, distribute the Turnaround documents and schedule a planning session with each team member. As the PM, you should ask individual resources to confirm their assignments in view of the skills or knowledge required. Additionally, the resource will review and perhaps adjust task estimates based upon his/her confidence level of information available. Once the tasks and assignments are confirmed, you will establish a baseline or “Point-in-Time” schedule. Subsequently you will compare project progress against this baseline to monitor and report slippage.

The Turnaround document can also be used as a means for tracking progress of assignments. Project Team members submit their updated Turnaround document weekly. Therefore the document should also include preprinted columns with blank fields for:

  • Actual Start and Finish Dates
  • A field for the team member to enter the total hours charged to the project for the week.
  • A filed to record hours of work remaining on each task.
  • A free form field for comments or other feedback

When you need to Assign Work

Work assignments are made in conjunction with the development of the baseline project plan. As soon as you have developed the WBS and added time estimates, you should assign generic resources (e.g., HR Functional, Benefits Functional, Tech, etc.) for all tasks. Before assigning any real resources you should first complete the schedule based upon the relationships between the tasks. This will give you a schedule based on the order in which work physically has to be done. Once this has been done, you can identify specific resources and start looking at the schedule impact of adding those resources. You should substitute actual names on your plan and prepare Turnaround documents for the resources you have. In some cases, your team members will already be on-site when your plan is developed. In other cases, you will need to work with Staffing or with your client to obtain specific resources. When this is the case, develop the Turnaround document as soon as the specific resource is available so that no time is lost in making work assignments.

Your Role in Assigning Work

As a PM, you need to assign work appropriately. You should plan work assignments to meet three goals:

  • Maximize project effectiveness in terms of schedule and quality,
  • Ensure the team has credibility with the client, and
  • When possible and practical, provide developmental opportunities for newly-hired consultants.

At times, these goals can seem to conflict with one another, but the key is to keep the demands in balance by making conscious decisions about the trade-offs at every step.

You are responsible to:

  • Provide a copy of the project plan and a Turnaround document for each resource to make sure that assignments are communicated (and documented).
  • Check with resources to make sure that assignments are clearly understood by project team members and that they can commit to what you’ve articulated they will do in the amount of time you’ve allocated for it.

This means that it is your responsibility to do the initial planning of work assignments. Then, it is your responsibility to clearly communicate those work assignments in a manner that builds trust and openness within the team. You should be open to input from your team on these initial work assignments and be willing to make mutually agreed-upon changes based on the feedback you get from your team. As a Project Manager, you are responsible to inform team members what they are expected to do, but not how they are expected to do it. After any initial modifications have been made, you are responsible for tracking each team member’s progress on each of their deliverables.

Changes in the Project

When changes are made during the project (either through the Change Control Process or as a result of updating and refining the operating plan), you will need to assign any new tasks to a resource. Or a resource may leave the project for one reason or another, and you will have to assign work to a replacement. You will need to inform the team member(s), update the project plan, and issue a new Turnaround document to the resource in question.

Other Project Tasks

Inevitably there are tasks that don’t clearly fall in to the specific expertise of one resource or another, and you use these situations to make assignments that balance workloads, maximize working relationships, provide resource development, etc. For example, developing an Acceptance Test Plan or working with clients on test scripts can be done by any of the functional resources, so you could assign these types of tasks to one whose workload is lighter than another.

Mistakes to Avoid

There is one class of tasks you should never assign to another member of the project team: the tasks of project management. It can be very tempting to assign administrative tasks to others. However, a PM should never delegate away the responsibility for updating the Project Plan. Project Managers are expected to enter any updates to the Project Plan themselves because the process of updating the Plan requires making judgments about the work. For example, if a team member submits a revised target date for their work the PM must evaluate the situation. Why is the target date shifting? Is there a legitimate reason or is there a productivity problem that must be addressed? What is keeping the resource from making the progress expected? What is the impact of the revised target date on the rest of the project? A Project Manager cannot delegate the accountability or the responsibility for updating the project plan.

It is sometimes appropriate (and this takes good judgment) for a PM to delegate responsibility for some tasks that are considered “project management.” For example, developing a communications plan, or setting up an issue tracking system, or putting together the Charter. However, you cannot delegate the accountability for that or any other PM task.

It is unwise to assign even the responsibility for doing the task to a team member unless you have a large project, and both you and the resource know exactly what you are doing. One reason is that you have full accountability to maintain control of the project, and you have to really know what is going on in all aspects. Another reason to be sensitive is that you are actually assigned the PM work and clients are billed for you to do it, while other resources are billed to do specific functional or technical work. Team members really shouldn’t have gaps in their workloads that would allow you to offload work to them.

On the other hand, Project Managers may be tempted to do work that properly belongs to others. Many PM’s have difficulty keeping their work separate from their people’s work. In the Course Introduction you read about the common confusion that inexperienced PM’s have about their role. Many PM’s still want to play a technical or functional role on the team. You will often feel pulled to do your old job. If you give in to the temptation, you will jeopardize the project.

To summarize, project work assignments must meet the following criteria:

  • The work assignments for each team member are “complete,” i.e., contain a list of all tasks and success criteria such as:
  • expected target dates
  • estimates of work effort
  • a way to reference tasks back to the comprehensive work plan so that such information as task dependencies and supporting resources can be determined.
  • Project Management tasks have not been delegated to team members
  • Overall there is reasonable alignment of skills to tasks
  • There is no avoidable imbalance, with one resource scheduled to work long hours and another with a very light load.





  1. I couldn’t resist commenting. Exceptionally well written!

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