Corrective PM Action Part 3 – the Project Team

Posted by Brad Egeland

In the third part of this series I want to look at how the project manager might take necessary steps to resolve issues that arise with the project team.  The idea is to be aware, look for signs and be proactive about taking action to correct the situations before they become problematic for the project, for the rest of the team, and for your customer.  Once you’ve allowed it to cross that line to causing customer dissatisfaction or project issues, it’s hard to fix both that perception and the overall problem.

Below are four potential issues project managers might face on projects that they are managing where team members have basically caused the issues and corrective action is taken.  I’m speaking from experience here because I’ve had each of these come up more than once on my projects over the 20+ years I’ve been managing IT engagements.

Project budget issues

Many project budget issues can be traced right back to the primary individuals charging time to your projects – your own project team members.  At the end of the day, we don’t always look back and document where we spent our time.  We may not even do that at the end of the week.  On Monday morning, when Accounting is asking for either our head or our timesheet, then – and only then – do we set about the arduous task of documenting what we spent our time on the previous week.  And of course, we think we can remember everything we did, right?  What I’ve just described is everyone charging time to your projects.  They may be able to remember 40 of their 50 hours they spent last week, but those final 10 hours are the ‘grey’ hours.  They were legitimate hours they spent working on someone’s project doing real work, but no one remembers what project.  If you’re the quiet project manager who’s not tracking his budget closely, those hours go to you.

The fix is to manage your budget closely – and if you’re not doing so already then start now.  And, involve your team.  Because if they know you’re watching the project budget on a daily basis, then your project will not be where they charge those unknown hours.  And your project budget will remain healthier for it.

Resource conflict issues

Our team members are often working on other projects.  If we begin to run into issues with their availability during key points in our project, then it is imperative that we take corrective action.  A couple of years ago I was leading a team that was performing a case study in the IT arena.  I can’t give specifics, but it was similar to this interesting one I ran across recently on an IP trunking business case from Allstream.  I didn’t realize it immediately, but I wasn’t getting the focus from one of my team members that I needed and his tasks were slipping – all due to his other project commitments.  It isn’t always enough that we carefully manage their time using a collaborative tool like Seavus’ Project Viewer.  That will track their time on your project, but if they’re being pulled to a more critical project than ours, then seeking out a comparably skilled replacement may be the only answer.  If prioritization of work is the issue, than a meeting with the resource and his direct supervisor may be the right step to take.  Either way, corrective action must happen quickly so that project tasks don’t begin to slip.  Missed task deadlines on projects can quickly have a domino affect leading to missed milestones and possibly a delayed deployment.  Swift corrective action is the only answer.

Issues in front of the project client

Ever had one of those project team members that reacted to every problem like an over-concerned four year old?  Well, I did.  My lead developer on a project a few years ago was very quick to over-react to potential issues on the project.  Had he been sitting next to me, that may have been ok.  But he wasn’t – I was working remotely most of the time and he was sitting onsite with the customer.  You get the picture…and it’s not a pretty one.  Needless to say, the ‘sky is falling’ attitude he had with every issue that came up scared the heck out of the project client and initiated several phone calls from the client to me and to my superiors.  I had to either correct his customer-interfacing skills quickly, or replace him as the customer was requesting.  They liked his skills, but they were concerned about his ability to handle pressure – as was I.  After careful discussion, I managed to convince him to step back and assess issues with me and the rest of the team before reacting in front of the customer.  He corrected his behavior and eventually gained back the confidence of the customer.

Rogue team member actions

Let’s face it – most of our developers on our IT projects have big egos.  They are certain that they know a lot more about everything than we do.  That’s one reason why I feel that it’s critical for an IT project manager to have a technical background.  Our very skilled technical leads on projects will sometimes try to blaze their own paths.  I’ve usually found this to be more apparent on smaller projects where that developer may be the only one on the project.  As the project manager, you must do one of two things…micro-manage them or replace them.  I usually try to see if some one-on-one discussion and short-term micro-management solves the behavior, but if it doesn’t, then the resource must be replaced before he takes the project off track by performing unassigned work and work that is not covered as part of the project requirements.

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