I was recently listening to a podcast over at Cornelius Fichtner’s PM Podcast and it brought back some experiences I had. The podcast interviewed Margaret Meloni who basically talked about trusting your intuition about resources’ actual progress on their tasks and some warning signs.
To illustrate the situation, Margaret tells the story of a line manager who told one of her direct reports not to spend too much time on project “B” before another piece of work was done on project “A”… even though the line manager had committed to allowing the direct report to be assigned both projects. This of course had a serious impact on project “B” when the time came for the resource to deliver his work.
For me, this really has to do with being professional and trustworthy. Every individual on the team is excepting the others to carry their load and to do what is expected of them or the project will likely fail.
How does this occur?
I may be naive, but I don’t think anyone has purposely sabotaged one of my projects by not doing the work. When this has happened, I found the reasons included:
- Contradictory signals/”orders” from their line manager (like in the example above)
- That the resource didn’t fully understand how they contributed to the success of the project and/or how important the project was
- Over confidence in their ability to quickly get it done… waiting until the last minute
- The resource was just not good at managing their time and afraid of confronting the truth
Margaret brings up a couple of the warning signs when this could be happening:
- The “everything is fine…”, “no problems here, keep moving…”: I’ve seen this a few times at status meetings where, when everyone else had 5-10 minute discussions about where they are and challenges with their work, but their is one who just wants to get it over with… that are not as engaged as you’d expect
- Don’t attend status meetings: even worse, they don’t even attend status meetings or avoid you in the halls and lunch area
Key message: Trust your PM instincts and don’t be afraid to confront actual progress of a task.
What can a PM do?
First of all important to remember NOT to turn this into a witch hunt… that we don’t let the resource get the feeling that you don’t believe/trust them. Even if this person is deliberately sabotaging the project, it’s important to focus on getting the task back on track, switching resources if needed.
But what can be done to prevent this? Can you have a canary in the mineshaft?
- Strive to have a deliverable for each member for at least every other status meeting… there needs to be some way for the resource to show tangible progress. This approach will also reduce risk about requirements gathered and better predict whether or not the project is on target
- Attend some kind of review meeting (ie. code review, documentation, etc)
- Followup with others who should be involved with the work that person should be doing (i.e. “Dear Mr Client, How did the meeting last week go with the developer?”)
- Make sure the Line Manager understands the importance of the task, that the project has executive support, that the project is part of a strategic initiative, etc
- Make sure the Line Manager is part of the reporting/communication plan – highlighting the work that person is (should be?) doing
- If your organization has a PMO, ask them to do one of the above as an audit
How the PMO can help:
As almost an outside 3rd party, the PMO can be a valuable resource helping deal with this:
- Remind the PM to stay proactive, to trust their instincts and confront the situation
- Offer to attend one of the status meetings to get their assessment
- Get formal (re-)commitment from the Line Manager. This should have been done during project selection, but there may be a need to remind everyone of the priorities
- Highlight the resource commitments. The Line Manager may be reluctant to fully commit resources because of not knowing what future resource commitments his resources have
- Make it easy for the Line Manager to report changes to resource commitments (more on this in next section)
- Make sure the process/methodology “strongly suggests” the PM get involved and maybe even have this as a metric… which would help the PM have a reason to followup with the resource “I know it’s it aggravating, but the PMO says I have to join at least one review meeting pr month.”
What can the Line Manager do?
Ideally, the Line Manager should have been aware of the commitments his resources had before committing the resource to the project. But life happens, projects get delayed and knock-on effects impact other projects.
So the organization needs to have a culture of openly addressing the changes and have them dealt with. Maybe the Line Manager is on the stereo of the project where a change request or even an issue can be raised. If not, then contact the PM(s) of the affected projects and have them do it.
And sometimes back-room deals are done between line Managers. But at a minimum, the affected PM(s) should be made aware so the plans can be updated.
Why confront the situation?
You may be asking yourself, “Why even get involved? If someone doesn’t deliver, and they say they are working on it, then it’s on them”. Sure, you may have documented it in the minutes… that they gave a green light on progress and you have formal commitment from their line manager. But in the end, you, as the PM, are left holding the bag.
So it’s better to have the discussion at the beginning of the problem rather than when you hit a roadblock and it can’t be managed between yourself (the PM) and the Line Manager… even worse, when the CIO or CEO needs to get involved.
The impact of a resource not delivering from your project will likely – somewhere – impact another project or part of the organization.
Plus, I’ve always found it just feels better not to pass the buck to someone else or hold someone hostage.
So let’s get this dealt with today.
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