Problem: Project Tasks are Incomplete

We have all been there before! Various project tasks are incomplete, or late, because a Project Team member didn’t know that they were responsible for the tasks or didn’t know how to complete the tasks. Either way, as Project Leads we need to find out why and what we can do to address the situation.

There are several reasons why this might occur:

  • The project tasks were not communicated clearly to the task owners
  • The Project Team member did not understand the task assigned to them
  • There are unforeseen dependencies that were not accounted for
  • There were assumptions made that were not documented
  • Onboarding of new team members was not completed

All of these issues can track back to one critical element of project success: Communication. Communication activities can vary in format, delivery, timing and content. Let’s review how various forms of communication could have prevented some of the project issues noted above.

  • The project tasks were not communicated clearly to the task owners.

Suggestion: Include the entire Project Team in the identification of the tasks.

Details: For instance, have a discussion with the Project Team to determine what tasks will be required to complete the project. Together, the Project Team will contribute all of the tasks required to create a comprehensive work breakdown structure (WBS). The discussion of tasks, owners, sequencing and dependencies can be a vital planning tool for the project and can reduce any confusion on who is responsible for which tasks.

  • The Project Team member did not understand the task assigned to them

Suggestion: During the task identification discussion, make sure task owners are clear on their responsibilities.

Details: While having the discussion on task identification, it would be advisable to confirm that the Task Owners understand their tasks and how to complete those tasks as needed. If any of the Task Owners indicate some confusion on how to complete their tasks, now is the time to discuss those questions or make a commitment to find the answers for the team member. Remember that communication is the exchange of understanding. Both parties must understand what is being communicated in order for communication to be successful.

  • There are unforeseen dependencies that were not, initially, accounted for

Suggestion: Document these dependencies and determine if there are any impacts on the project WBS, schedule or deliverables.

Details: If the Project Team is included in the initial discussion on task identification, the dependencies are also revealed at that time. However, unknown dependencies may arise. A thorough review of the WBS once the new dependency is identified would be optimal. Modify the WBS, as required, to include the new dependency task and communicate those changes with the Project Team and stakeholders.

  • There were assumptions made that were not documented

Suggestion: Document all assumptions upfront when finalizing the Project Charter.

Details: There can be a lot of assumptions made with project work. I have personally witnessed Project Managers assume that a vendor will take care of several tasks, when in fact it was never discussed, and the vendor did not deliver on those tasks. By capturing the known assumptions in the Project Charter, they will be documented and discussed with the parties that are impacted by those assumptions. The discussion will also validate the correct party responsible for those tasks. After confirmation of the responsible party, these assumptions can become tasks, if appropriate, and included in the WBS for communication and tracking purposes.

  • Onboarding of new team members was not completed

Suggestion: The onboarding program for all new Project Team members includes a review of the tasks that they will be responsible for in the WBS.

Details: It has been my observation that many new Project Team members are never officially onboarded to the team. Plan to have an onboarding process in place that includes the review of the Project Charter, Project Team members, roles & responsibilities, communication protocols, collaboration tools, stakeholders and risks. This will help the new team member get acclimated to the project efforts and what their responsibilities will be. It is also through this discussion that the Project Manager will learn if there are any tasks the new team member may be unfamiliar with or not have the skills to complete. Getting a heads up on this situation will be helpful in keeping the project on schedule. The Project Manager can get the skills training that the team member needs or ask for help from someone who has the skills needed.

The most important statistic to remember is that 90% of a Project Managers job is communication and yet communication continues to be in the Top 5 reasons for project failure. Let’s change these statistics! Today. Now.

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Mary Beth Imbarrato
Mary Beth Imbarrato