When you need to give your team more help than a simple assignment to complete a phase, you may save yourself a lot of time and effort duplication by preparing narrative instructions. These do not need to be extensive - you certainly don’t want to write a one-hundred-page training manual. They won’t be needed for every step. Supply narrative instructions only where special care is needed or when you want the job done in a specific manner.

You may also need to write instructions for team members who do not understand how to execute a task. Just as employees in your department sometimes need more supervision, project team members cannot always take an assignment and complete it without your help.

Narrative example

An example of a need for narrative instructions: One phase of your project involves designing a simplified form. You know your team member is familiar with this, as she has designed forms in the past. Thus, you do not need to write an extensive training narrative for her. However, you might need to list guidelines covering such things as your desire for simplicity, a short list of information you want captured on the form, and a reminder to submit a draft of the form for your approval.

The narrative section needed for this step can be very brief. For example: Design a new form, remembering that we are striving for simplicity. Arrange the information being reported in the same sequence found on source documents. When the first draft is complete, submit it to the project manager for review and approval.

Simplify when possible

Carefully consider the need for narrative support for certain tasks throughout the project. To reduce the volume of extra material, keep narratives as short as possible, and avoid explaining the obvious points. You should describe processes or provide guidelines only when steps are not self-explanatory or when you expect questions to come up.

Describing important project processes

Your project team might find brief narratives reassuring as they proceed. Unfortunately, many projects are executed in a disorganized fashion, with few controls. Thus, you may run into resistance to the idea of highly organized processing. Until your team members are trained to think in terms of the overall project and its execution you may meet some resistance.

Before the team is assembled

Sometimes you may have to describe the entire project even before your team is selected, since you won’t know whom you will need for your team until after you’ve completed preliminary planning and some accompanying instructions. If you have the luxury of picking your own team, don’t make the mistake of picking a team first and then having to alter the work to fit the people. It makes more sense to select your team members after initial planning is complete and some narratives have been prepared so that they can properly execute each phase of the project.

However, the organized approach works well even when your team is chosen before you’ve broken your project down into phases. For example, you may be given a team to work with, or your department may be given an assignment and expected to function as a team. While this alternative is not as desirable for effective project management, it is unavoidable in many situations.

In such cases, the narrative sections should be written for each team member, not for the overall project or phase. Even though you don’t yet have your team together, you still should know what skills you will need to complete the project.