Everyone is sitting around the table. You’re just about to kick-off a new project and the room is brimming with anticipation and excitement. Everyone has been waiting for this project to come in for a long time. Not only will it be a fun project to work on, but it’s also just what the company needed in order to make their numbers for the next quarter. Great news!
It’s your job as project manager to finish the project planning process. So far, all the deliverables have been identified and assigned to their logical owners. Your engineering team knows their exact responsibilities. QA is right in line and agrees with what they need to do. Marketing gives a big thumbs-up to their part of the project and Documentation is sitting there nodding their heads reassuringly. All the logical deliverables have been assigned to their respective departments.
This leaves you with a handful of items that just don’t fit in. These deliverables don’t lend themselves to the clear ownership of one department over the next, but they do need to be done, nonetheless.
These may be deliverables that require joint collaboration between two or three departments. Or, it may just be a brand new deliverable that hasn’t been implemented prior to this time.
You describe the deliverable and then ask who can take ownership? Dead silence. You wait and ask again… “who would like to take ownership of this deliverable?” Again… nothing. You can hear crickets in the background. People pretend as if they’re checking their messaging or are deep in thought about some critical activity they have to do later that day. They’re doing everything they can possibly do to avoid eye-contact with you. They know that if they catch your eye, they are “it”.
But then… the silence is broken… and three little words are uttered that you rarely hear during project planning.
No, it’s not “I love you” (although those words are probably NEVER heard during project planning), but rather…
“I got that”.
What?? Did somebody just say “I got that?”
Someone actually volunteered to take on a deliverable that didn’t necessarily have a clear owner? Did you hear them right? You did. You’re grateful. Someone from the team stepped up and took ownership of something that they didn’t necessarily have to own.
We’re not saying that this type of behavior never happens, but it’s a rarity nowadays. The following are some of the reasons why this type of behavior may be rare during project planning and some things you can do to hear those three little words more often.
Why is Volunteering So Rare?
Volunteering to take ownership of something that doesn’t have a clear owner is a rarity for a number of reasons. For example:
It Means More Work – Let’s face it…everyone has more than enough work to keep not only themselves busy, but probably a second or third person as well. There’s just not enough time in the day to get done what people are already responsible for, let alone signing up for additional work.
It Stretches Comfort Zones – Most people like routines. They like predictability. They like to know that if there’s a task or activity ahead of them, that they’ll be able to accomplish it without too much of a problem.
When someone volunteers for something new or different, it puts them in the position of having to try something new. They may not feel entirely comfortable doing what is being asked of them and this causes reluctance when it comes to taking ownership of something new.
Something Could Go Wrong – Another reason why you may hear crickets when you look for someone to take ownership of something is that they may have been burned before. It may have been earlier in their career that they were gung-ho about taking on new and exciting challenges. But then they fall victim to “no go deed goes unpunished” and they find themselves backing off as their career progresses.
It’s an unfortunate long-term consequence of poor management, but it doesn’t take too many times to get burned if something goes wrong before people wise up.
Should You Volunteer as a Project Manager?
A trap that many newer project managers may fall into when it comes to project planning is to volunteer for everything themselves. They can’t stand the silence. It’s awkward. It may make them feel as if they don’t have control of the situation. It’s especially easy to succumb to volunteering for an unassigned deliverable if you know how to do it.
For example, you may have a technical background that would allow you to accomplish that task.
Don’t do it. By the book, a project manager should own NOTHING other than the project plan and all the activities associated with project management. You never, ever want to be on the critical path yourself and run the possibility of slowing the project down.
There are, however, some things that you can, and should, volunteer for when it comes to project planning. It may be an administrative task or organizing something that will make your resources jobs easier or something that will clear an obstacle of their way. You should be all over that type of activity for a couple of reasons.
You’ll Garner Respect from Your Team – There are “hands-off” project managers that do nothing more than bark out commands, forward emails and drink way too much coffee. They refuse to get their hands dirty or dig into some of the details that will help move the project forward, faster. If they see you digging in and helping out, you’ll certainly go up a notch or two on their respect-o-meters.
It Keeps Your Team Focused – Your resources need to stay heads down on what they need to accomplish. If you’ve volunteered to take care of something (that’s not on the critical path) then this will allow them to keep focused on those items that are on the critical path. There’s nothing more frustrating for a person that’s “in the zone” to have to stop and start over and over again. You can remove that frustration.
It Sets a Good Example – Your volunteering as a project manager for those items that you can take care of sets a great example for your team when it comes to having a volunteering spirit. The next time you need to have something done and there’s deafening silence in the room, perhaps people will remember your example and step up to take ownership.
Project planning isn’t always fun. There are a lot of things that must be accounted for when it comes to resources, identifying work that needs to be done, conflicting demands, and tight schedules.
However, project planning can become easier if people on your team start uttering those three little words you long to hear as a project manager…”I got that”.
Those three little words make everyone’s job that much easier, remove unnecessary stress and pressure from the team and help build morale across the entire group.