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The PM as a Baby-Sitter (Facilitator)

Posted by beyondexecution on March 12, 2012 at 7:30 AM

In one of my recent classes, a participant was clearly very frustrated at having to "baby-sit" team members in order to have it done. She was tired of having to chase people down to remind them of deadlines and finding out issues that probably should have bee identified and actioned earlier. Her question to me what way is there (or PMI way) to avoid this situation, and let her get on with more important duties? I did not have an answer that she really liked, which was there isn't really a way around it. Part of the project manager's responsibilities, whether we like it or not, is to chase deliverable status. I called it a facilitator role, as opposed to a baby-sitter (I suppose this would depend on the maturity level of the team members :)

 

I honestly don't think there is a way around it, at least not completely. There are a few techniques that can be applied:

 

1.  Orientation. This is a chance to set expectations of what you want team members to do, whether it be adhering to the timelines, reinforcing quality guidelines, or setting up ground rules such as attending meetings on time.

2.  Training. Sometimes we get folks who simply aren’t skilled and they need to obtain the skills. Sometimes they may not be used to project life, if you are borrowing resources from a functional or operational group.

3.  Rewards (Penalties). Not always doable in a large corporation, you can still find ways that don't cost money for these. Looking at rewards only (and you can create opposite approaches for penalties), methods such as positive feedback, taking a person out for coffee or even lunch, or making a recommendation to a their supervisor can work out well.

 

The above are what I'd call "PMI-recommended", proactive methods. Mainly academic, hit-and-miss on their results when applied to practice. They can work, but it's not a straight forward do-it-like-this approach. I think the skill of the PM comes into play here on how effective the results are.

 

The next few are a bit more to real life, but they are also more reactive in nature, which is usually where we find ourselves. 

4. Project Performance Evaluations. These evaluations should go back to supervisors and managers, so this should, in theory, give you a bit of a carrot and stick to aid performance. This is highly dependent on a company's culture though. I do find that high performing cultures do tend to produce results. The drawback, of course, is that there's very little tolerance for poor performers, and they get shipped out pretty quickly. If you're in a culture that doesn't promote this, this tactic doesn't do much for you.

5. Peer pressure. Using social politics in your favour. Try using the team member's internal "customers" to apply pressure. By internal customers, I mean other team members who are dependant upon the person's deliverables. Their schedule will become delayed because of the person upstream from them. If you have a high performing sub-group, or cell, have them try to help out, or accordingly put pressure.

6. Negotiation. This isn't pretty for a PM to do, and that's why it's near the bottom of the list. But when you have a low amount of formal power over team members, sometimes you need to use this approach to get things done. I've used negotiation more often when I worked in a functional organization.

7. Replacement. The ultimate action. Not pretty, but you need to be willing (and have the power) to do this. See my previous blog post on when to remove a team member on things to look for -> here.

 

 

 

The overall results we want is to have a maturity level amongst your team members so that you can do "real" work - managing the overall project, resolving higher level issues, managing client expectations and so on. The reality is, however, that we cannot completely get away from nagging some team members.

(My last word on this subject is that the person who asked me was more junior and a bit more new to the profession.  Many of the more senior folks in the room understood through experience that the ideal situation of zero nagging doesn't really exist, at least without a change in culture.)

 

Categories: Project Management Tips, Soft Skills

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