Toni Duval: Be a go-to employee by closing the loop

I recently spent time listening to expert project managers discuss their jobs. Some of the projects they managed were five to seven years in length. In fact, when we speak of project management, we often think big; big budgets, many people, complex logistics.

However, after listening to these project managers my mind began to imagine a world where all workers used the basic project management approach to their jobs.

You may think your job is nothing like a “project.” In fact, everything we do is a mini-project. Whether it’s a one-time assignment or even a regularly scheduled task, you can apply project management principles to be more productive, efficient, and add more essential skills to your personal skill “bag of tricks”.

It begins with an assignment. Someone, usually your manager, asks if you can deliver something to her. It may be an actual “thing” or she may want you to analyze information and come up with a suggestion.

In project management parlance, this begins the initiation phase. The activities performed in this phase are geared toward gathering information about the expectations and understanding how your performance is going to be measured. The deliverable of the Initiation Phase is an Assignment Plan that outlines how you plan to deliver your assignment on time.

Once your manager has given the green light to your plan, you can determine what resources you will need to accomplish your assignment. Are other people needed or will you need additional software or other technical applications? If, so you’ll need to communicate your needs, negotiate deadlines, and coordinate the various responsibilities associated with the subtasks.

Don’t be surprised if you have to adjust your plan. Many times things don’t go the way you wish. And external forces often impact your ability to deliver your assignment; a missed deadline, shifting priorities, misunderstanding about expectations. The deliverable of the Execution Phase is the delivery of the specific sub-assignments.

The final phase of a project is called the “Close-Out.” That is when the final “output” is delivered. In my imagination, instead of a close-out, the normal employees also can validate a draft of the deliverable with your manager, make any needed adjustments, record lessons learned so you don’t make the same mistakes the next time, and recognize others who helped you successfully deliver your assignment on time.

Many who are reading this probably are saying to themselves that this is pretty basic stuff. However, week after week I see people spinning their wheels. Perhaps they are bad at coordinating resources or they misunderstand the expectations when being given the assignment.

Many times, people fail to close the loop altogether and let the obstacles get in the way of completing the assignment. Think of the time wasted on re-work because of a team member’s failure to deliver on deadline. If you want to be the “go-to” employee, perhaps you should adopt a bit of project management to your skill set.

Toni Duval is owner of TLD-Training and Leadership Development.

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