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 Effective Engineering e-Newsletter – 3/27/2003

This is your bi-weekly e-Newsletter from Effective Engineering Consulting Services (www.effectiveeng.com).  If you would like to receive Effective Engineering e-newsletters as they are published, please send an email to e-newsletter@effectiveeng.com, and we will add you to our distribution list.

eN-030327:

Do Jobs Right – Assign the Right People!
  By Tom Dennis – President, Effective Engineering [tdennis@effectiveeng.com]


How many times have you observed a situation where, when a job needed to get done, the manager checked to see who was available, and simply assigned the job the first available person, whether such a job assignment to that particular person made sense or not?  Sad to say, this is an all too common occurrence, and the result is often predictable and disappointing, if not downright disastrous.  While such behavior may be somewhat understandable in the case where a new need suddenly arises, there are still better ways to address such circumstances.  In cases where planning for a new project is being undertaken, such behavior is inexcusable.

First, let’s talk about what I mean by the “wrong person” or the “right person”.  The “wrong person” is not meant as a pejorative term for a specific individual.  It only has meaning in the context of a specific assignment.  The “wrong person” means that the knowledge, background, and experience of that specific person are not a match to the requirements and needs of a particular assignment.  You wouldn’t want a road worker to perform brain surgery (or at least I wouldn’t want a road worker to perform surgery on my brain, no matter how nice a guy that road worker is), or ask a brain surgeon to do road work with a jackhammer (where he could damage his highly trained hands and fingers, the “instruments” of his profession).  You want to match, to the degree possible, the skills, talents, and capabilities of the individual to the requirements and needs of the assignment.

What happens when the wrong person is put on an assignment?
► The person assigned often feels overwhelmed by an assignment that is so far afield of his/her knowledge and experience that he/she become demoralized and frustrated.  He/she attempts to do the job as best possible, but falls short, has to ask many others for help (thus disrupting their work), and often delivers results slowly and/or with poor quality.
► The other people associated with the project recognize that this person is in over his/her head, and try to compensate either by providing help to get him/her up to speed, or by trying to do some of this person’s work themselves, sacrificing their own efforts, timely delivery, and product quality.  They become frustrated that management has placed this person and them in such circumstances, and overall project morale suffers.
► The assignment is generally disrupted, and results in project delays, poor quality, and higher development costs (see eN-021107 – Ineffective Engineering Costs You Time, Money, and Customers!).

In contrast, what happens when the right person is put on an assignment?
► The person assigned is empowered because he/she knows that he/she has been given this assignment because of the confidence management has in him/her to do the job properly.  He/she feels challenged by the assignment, but comfortable with it, because his/her background and experience have properly prepared him/her for this challenge.
► The other people associated with the project have confidence in both the person assigned and in the management team making the assignment.  They know that this person is the right person to do this job, and that it will complement and even improve their efforts to complete their project in a timely fashion, with high quality.
► The assignment is generally bolstered by the addition of the “right person”, and the probability of success for timely delivery, high quality, and well-controlled costs is improved.

What, then, is the right way to approach putting the “right people” into job assignments? 
► In the case of planning for new projects, all of the jobs that must be assigned and the skills of all those available to work on those jobs must be analyzed and people must be matched to assignments.  If the “right people” are found not to be available, then an assessment must be made of the impact, and it may be necessary to pull in the “right people” from other projects and backfill them with suitable people from the available pool.  If this is not possible, then the scope or timeframe of the project may need to be adjusted to account for not having the “right people” available.  It is mistake to simply assign the “wrong people” and hope that everything will work out fine.  It won’t.
► In the case of assigning a person to a job that suddenly arises, again it is essential that an assessment of the qualifications of the people available to take on that job be performed.  If the “right person” is available, then the job can simply be assigned to that person.  However, if the “right person” is not available, then assignments of other “right people” must be assessed to see if one of them can be moved into this assignment and someone else can backfill for him/her.  For example, if the “right person” is finishing up another job, it may be possible to pull that person off of that job and assign him/her to this new job, and backfill that person’s current assignment with someone else whose capabilities are sufficient to finish that job.

All of this is just common sense, right?  Well, yes.  However, common sense is too often the exception and not the rule when it comes to assigning people to jobs (and in many other areas).  In order for engineering to be effective, people must be qualified to perform their assigned jobs.  Management must make it a priority to ensure this.  That is one of their assigned jobs.


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