“Who is free to work on this task?” is something all project managers will hear at some time or other. And it isn’t the best way to allocate work to your project team members.
After all, would you have brain surgery done by a surgeon who specialises in feet just because he or she happened to be free that day?
Of course not. So there isn’t any point allocating a task to give a presentation to the board to someone with expertise in requirements analysis, if they have presented to senior management before, just because they happen to have some spare time at the moment.
Resource allocation is one of the trickier aspects of leading a high-performing project team.
You want to make sure that everyone is fully occupied but on project tasks that play to their strengths.
From time to time that might mean that someone has to work on something that isn’t their core area of expertise, but provided they have the support required, that could be a good development opportunity.
However, assuming you have the luxury of being able to access a range of resources with varying skills, how should you allocate tasks?
Here are my tips for working out who is best placed to do the project work.
Top of the list is skill – does the person have the skills required to actually carry out this project task and complete it successfully? If so, they are probably the best person for the job.
Has the resource in question done this sort of task before? If so, they will have the relevant experience and the confidence to do it again and probably won’t need much support from you.
If they haven’t done it before, but you believe they have the skills to do the work, then they will need more support but could still complete the task successfully.
Just because someone has the skills and experience doesn’t mean that they are interested enough in the work to do the task well.
If they have done the same task a thousand times before and really want to spend some time building their experience in other areas then you could allocate the work to them – but it might not be done to the highest standard, or in a timely fashion.
Talk to your team members before you give them work in order to assess their level of motivation.
Yes, you do have to consider how much a resource costs before allocating tasks!
The person best placed to do the work may be far too expensive for your project budget, so you may have to compromise.
Equally, it isn’t worth using a highly paid programme manager to do basic admin tasks if you have someone on the team in a project co-ordinator or PMO support role who could do those for you.
Where is the task going to be carried out? With a lot of project work it doesn’t much matter and your team members could work from anywhere.
But there are likely to be some tasks where location does play a part. For example, configuring servers on site, or working at a client location for a length of time.
You want to pick someone who is the best person for the job, but if you have a choice of resource you could find that location plays a part in the decision-making process.
It’s cheaper if you don’t have to pay travel expenses and it’s probably more convenient for the resource concerned if the work is local to where they are normally based.
Finally, you should take availability into account. OK, it isn’t the most important criteria when it comes to assigning work to team members, but it does matter.
There isn’t any point in assigning a task to someone who is already overloaded, while other team members sit around waiting for work to come in.
Instead, it could be a good opportunity to improve the skills of someone else or to help others learn something completely new, like budget management.
In short, there are lots of factors that come into play when assigning project tasks to team members.
You probably do it unconsciously but every so often it does help to think through why you are giving a task to someone – as well as to check that they really are the most appropriate person for the job at that time.
What other criteria do you use? Let us know in the comments.
ESI’s Scheduling and Cost Control course is suitable for all project managers, particularly those who want to better control time and resource constraints.
Elizabeth Harrin is a career project and programme manager with a decade of experience in healthcare and financial services. She is Director of The Otobos Group, a project communications consultancy and author of Social Media for Project Managers and the award-winning blog A Girl’s Guide to Project Management.
Find her on Twitter @pm4gi