the in-basket exercise ...part 1


Today we introduce a new section in our Project tutorials.

Although the In-Basket exercise has nothing to do, technically speaking, with MS Project, it is an important part of any manager's career path and we cover it here to help our future project managers to get ahead.

We feel that coaching on all aspects of management is beneficial in producing a well-rounded executive.

At a future date we plan to add a new website on career planning and we may move the In-Basket coaching to that area.

what is the in-basket exercise?

It's a work sample exercise where the context is similar to a real management position.

It consists of an on-the-job scenario where the candidate is judged on his/her management abilities.

There are many different In-Basket exercises that measure different competencies but they basically all work in the same way. At different management levels and in different organizations various competencies will be evaluated. It is important that the candidate obtain a good description of the competencies that will be measured by the exercise.

For example, a mid-level manager in the Canadian Public Service will be evaluated on "Ability to Manage", which consists of three components:

  • Planning and Conducting Activities
  • Managing the Human Aspect of the Organization
  • Partnership and Quality of Client Service

The Public Service Commission of Canada defines Ability to Manage:

"The manager must identify and evaluate personnel, operational, organizational, and budgetary priorities. The manager initiates and oversees the implementation of effective plans and activities in response to or in anticipation of changing demands. These demands may relate to programs, projects or financial matters, or the needs of personnel, management teams, senior management, clients or the public. Addressing these issues involves horizontal collaboration, or working with other units or departments at the same level of the organization on related matters, as well as vertical collaboration, to achieve the organization's objectives through exchanges between different levels of the organization. The manager facilitates partnerships with relevant external organizations and consults with key players within the organization on the future direction of these partnerships. The manager ensures that human and financial resources are used effectively and establishes the necessary feedback mechanisms for monitoring activities and costs. Taking into consideration the capabilities and responsibilities of every staff member, the manager ensures that activities are assigned fairly and optimally. The manager provides staff with effective guidance and supports their development to promote an environment of continuous learning."

As you can see, the description is very specific on what constitutes an effective manager in the Public Service. Every candidate for that In-Basket exercise should be thoroughly familiar with the definition since that is what is used to rate the answers.

how does the exercise work?

An In-Basket Exercise places you in a management position in a simulated organization. At the time of the assessment, you are provided with basic information including a description of the organization and its mandate, your role in the organization, and an organizational chart.

You are also presented with typical management situations. These situations consist of groups of items dealing with common issues or themes. Situations are made up of 2 to 5 separate documents such as e-mails, letters, and memos which present related issues and problems from key stakeholders of the organization, including employees, your superior, indirect employees, and clients (internal and external).

You are asked to respond to each item in writing in a standard response booklet.

A specified amount of time is allowed to complete the exercise. During this time, you are expected to become familiar with the organization and the situations and handle them as if you were actually on the job. You should handle as many of the issues presented as possible.

typical subjects covered

  • Program and/or Project Planning
  • Development of Work Plans
  • Human Resources
  • Preparation and/or Use of Budgets
  • Coordination of Operational Activities
  • Monitoring & Adjusting Resource Expenditures
  • Dealing With Other Organizations (i.e., Partnering)
  • Public Relations / Communications