Who has the ball?

My passion for Goal Clarity may be known by the readers of this blog. Related to that is another Clarity that needs be present: who has the ball.

A huge number of mistakes and missed deadlines or opportunities happen every day because people do not know who’s on to do something or push the project forward. Unclear communication, emails that can be misinterpreted and lack of understanding where the various roles fit in the organization are all causes of this issue. Having a process helps, but if your process does not detail the sequence of events, it will be hard to get your project done.

Some people like things to remain a bit unclear. It allows them to stall projects they really do not support, also it will defuse ownership in case the project turns out to be not a big success, finally it will allow them to work on the aspects of the project they like and pass the “hot potatoe” as soon as things get difficult. Oh the games people play!

There are probably many ways to make clear who is on next but some projects can be complicated and may require actions to happen simultaneously. One source of clarity should be the job descriptions of people involved and the description of the process in the various manuals that are sometimes used by certifying agencies. It may be cumbersome to search through those resources and also, it is not always immediately clear where in the job description or the description of the company’s processes you can find the sequence of events that needs to happen for this particular project.

A handy tool that I have used many times was the “Ball Chart” for lack of a better term. It is a simple flow chart that outlines who does what and in what sequence and you can add great stuff to it like what documents need to be prepared or included but just a simple Ball Chart will already help a lot. Just making the Chart will force you to think through the project and understand all the players and who will take care of what. It will immediately make clear where confusion and thus delays may occur.


Other organizations refer to this process tool as “swim lanes” and it exists in many forms. Here is a quick and easy example of a project to recruit a new employee (click the image to enlarge). You’ll see that in this example the organization has chosen to have both line management and HR do the selection. Also there is a choice that HR makes the offer to the final candidate. Other organizations will make different choices and if you don’t make it clear upfront who has the ball for which activity, both the line manager, the HR manager and maybe even the recruitment manager could all be making a call, or be waiting on each other to make the first move. To develop a more sophisticated Ball Chart or Swim Lanes, you can go to Creately.com and check out their offerings.

The main point in this post is again the role clarity that needs to exist for effective and efficient management to occur. It is better to check for understanding than to assume that all participants in a rather complicated project will know exactly who’s on ball when.

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