Sometimes the things that make us good project managers cause a blind spot when we work other people. I didn't really put this all together, even after years of working around it, until a few weeks ago.
I was coaching a client who was frustrated that a customer group wasn't making progress on testing an application. I asked if she had given assignments to each of the group members or had just given them a general direction. The answer - she had told them to test and even provided a list of what needed to be tested, but it was still a general assignment. My advice was to divide the list up and give topics/areas to each person - maybe giving one person the responsibility of finding holes in the list and testing any topics he found. This is how I personally work because my experience has been that no one takes responsibility if their name isn't involved. This doesn't seem to be from any particular attempt to avoid work; I've never really figured out why it happens, I've just dealt with the results. For some reason, though, this hasn't been in my checklist of coaching topics - maybe because more of the assignment I've given recently have been specific project tasks, maybe because it's automatic.
The corollaries, though, are all over my work. In a post-mortem, I always assign each 'improvement' suggestion to a person (sometimes more than one person, but always with a specific point person) with a date to get back to the group. Action items always have an owner and a target date set by that owner. If I'm met with silence in response to a question in a call I'll often ask someone specifically if they have any information.
I put this all together thinking about CPR training. I've been CPR certified continuously since I was in high school, which means recertification every few years. Things have changed a *lot* since I started, but one of the most interesting series of changes had to do with starting CPR (or first aid) on a person. About 10 years ago (could be more, I lose track :-) ) a step was added: if anyone is around, say 'Someone call 911' before you start. In my most recent recertification, that was changed to pointing at someone (anyone) and saying 'You - call 911.' Apparently most people won't call 911 if they're not singled out because of this odd (to me) group dynamic.
Of course, we project managers would immediately call 911 if 'someone' needed to. In fact, we'd probably already be calling before being asked (if we weren't the ones administering CPR). I think this is why we have the blind spot - we become project managers, or at least are good project managers, because we take responsibility and get things moving. It's hard to remember that most people don't react in the same way.
The bottom line is to always assign tasks to a single person. Even if a group is responsible, assign a point person to report back. Whenever possible, get the assigned person to give you the estimated completion date as well - people take more responsibility for dates they've established themselves.
Just remember: 'YOU - call 911'