Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way

You’re part of a team working on a critical project with a tight, but you think achievable, delivery date. In order to deliver on project commitments, each team member must deliver on their parts of the whole, and in the time-frames specified. Each team member has a role to play in the timely delivery of his or her parts for the project to come together properly. Each member’s role may change at different phases of the project. At some points, you may be tasked to lead specific efforts. At other points, you may be tasked to follow the lead of others. At yet other points, you may not have an assigned role, pending the delivery of others’ work efforts, and in such cases, it is often necessary that you simply get out of the way. What often dooms a project is when one or more members of the team do not carry out their assigned roles, whatever those roles may be. What can also doom a project is when team members inject themselves into roles they have not been assigned, adversely affecting the roles and delivery of others. It is critical that each team member, based on his or her role, needs to lead, follow, or get out of the way!

When a project plan is developed, one person or a small team is typically tasked with developing the project plan. This person or team usually has, through experience, an understanding of what is required to bring together all the many pieces necessary to complete the project, in the necessary and proper sequence, and with the necessary and proper resources (see Take the Time to Plan). It may be possible to have some team members work independently on some portions of the project while the project plan is being developed, but that, in itself, should be part of the project plan. Others may be able to do some background research on the project, but this should not influence the project plan development.

Once the project plan is complete and approved as necessary, it is up to those involved to carry out their roles through the various stages of the project. Specific people’s roles may vary throughout the various stages, or may remain the same. It is essential that people understand the various roles and what these mean in the various stages (see Leadership Is Not Just For ‘Leaders’).

So, what are the roles, and what are some of the actions and activities associated with those roles?

Role of a leader: Leaders are assigned to be in charge of specific project activities, with a number of followers assigned to report into them, carrying out the specific activities assigned by the leader. A leader may have responsibility to oversee project or program activities, to be a technical lead guiding the technical design or implementation of a portion of a project, or for leading and guiding many other specific aspects of the overall project plan. Leaders ensure that those aspects of the project they are responsible for are executed properly, on time, and completely. If any aspects they are responsible for are heading off-track, it is the leader’s responsibility to get them back on-track, via proper direction, or by notifying or requesting help from their leader.

Role of a follower: Followers are assigned by their leaders to carry out specific tasks that are a part of their leader’s portion of the overall project plan. Followers may do this on their own, if so directed, or as part of a team of followers, all reporting in to their leader. Followers should carry out their roles, keep their leader apprised of their progress and problems, and do all in their power to ensure that their portion of the overall project plan is completed with high quality and in the specified time frame. Followers should be aware of the status of the other followers on their team, and how their assignments fit in with other followers’ portions of the project. They should work closely with others, but their primary responsibility is to keep their leader apprised of their progress (or lack thereof), of their problems or issues, and of other problems they see that may affect timely delivery to the overall project plan.

Role when asked to ‘get out of the way’: When you are asked to ‘get out of the way’, your primary responsibility is to ensure that you do nothing to adversely affect the work of others on your team. Recognize that your time as a leader or follower will be coming as part of the overall project plan, and do what you can to prepare for that assignment. Don’t get in the way of others’ work, and don’t get in the way of decisions being made in a timely fashion. You get the idea. 

While ‘getting out of the way’, it can be helpful to stay fully apprised of what is going on in the project, and to identify potential problem areas that you can see. It can be helpful to be in contact with others on your team during this time, providing observations and suggestions. It can be fine to be in touch with your leader, pointing out issues and concerns. However, it is not helpful if you make a pest of yourself or pull your leader or teammates off track. When you adversely affect the work of others, by slowing them down or driving them off-track, you are no longer ‘getting out of the way’. Instead, you may be a hindrance to the work of others. 

Everyone wants to be part of the action in a project they’re involved with. Everyone wants to make a difference. But everyone also need to do this in the way which most helps to ensure project success. Sometimes that means you lead a portion of the project. Sometimes that means you follow the lead of others. And sometimes that means you get out of the way to avoid unnecessary interference.

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