Tech & Work

Tips for helping your team work through difficult times

How do you keep developers motivated and operating at peak productivity when work requests pull them in many directions? Will Kelly offers tips on how to keep your projects on track when times are tough.


The nature of your job as a project manager requires you to work with and manage a range of human resources, including the members of your development team and others across your organization.

This management task is made even more difficult when you team is strained by reorganizations, low morale, and limited resources. Things only get worse as members of your staff feel the pinch as more and more requests are piled on.  Some staff members rise to the challenge with varying rates of success, while others may take a more "triage" approach by only doing the tasks they can complete and screening out the rest. Here are some tips that project managers can use to help staff members meet these challenges.

Tip 1: Communicate value: business, implied, or personal
Developers, analysts, technical writers, and other technical staff who are burdened with having to produce more with less may react by ignoring constant requests for their time. As their work becomes mired in ever changing development schedules and priorities, you should be prepared to communicate only the following:
  • Business value for the project and how it benefits the company and its clients.
  • Strategic value for the project and how it benefits the company and its clients.
  • Value for the worker. Some examples of value to the team include high profile project within the company, new technologies to learn, and the chance to work with a good team, etc.

Most of your staffers aren’t looking for a business school presentation about the value of the project but, rather, they need to know that the work they do has real value and is important for the project and the company. Work that makes a difference can be a powerful driver even when your staff is stretched and morale is low.

Tip 2: Respect schedules and a worker's rhythm
Many people consider development work a solitary pursuit requiring degrees of concentration to get work done. Additionally, just as project manager’s resources have shrunk, so have the resources available to developers.

While the jury is out on whether development work is a solo or creative effort, if you work in an organization that requires independent work, then workers may have already laid out the priorities and tasks within their deliverable. Thus they may push back when schedules are altered. For example, the request “Just let me see what you have” is often cause for developers and other staff to feel intruded upon, make a disclaimer that they aren’t done with the task yet, and seem defensive.

Some ways to tune in to the worker’s schedule and productivity rhythm include:
  • Not showing up at his or her cubicle door with an entourage of management.
  • If possible, within your time constraints, making an appointment with the worker to discuss the change in project tasks and schedule.
  • Being aware of the worker’s other responsibilities outside of your development project. Some developers and staff may be assigned to multiple projects, meaning their availability is shared.

The key to respecting schedules and the rhythm of the worker’s productivity is to realize that workers may not be operating on the same timetable as you are.

Tip 3: Respect the person for their position
In many organizations, it’s the worker bee type—the front line software developer, analyst, technical writer, and tester—who can cause as much or more grief to a project manager than the project manager’s boss or an executive can cause. These folks, the operational and task level of the project, should be respected for the real work they do.

Tip 4:  Make the requested task easy to deliver
People enjoy working with people who are easy to deal with during a project. Being easy to work with doesn’t mean being soft or being a pushover. As a project manager, being easy to work with means meeting the person halfway.

Some ways of making a request easier to deliver include:
  • Doing some of the preliminary footwork, like arranging for added hardware and software resources and making preliminary contact with other groups within the organization that need to contribute to the new task you have assigned.
  • Contributing whatever research, preliminary work, or expertise you may have to the staff members assigned to work on the newly requested task.
  • Letting the staff members have some input on when they can complete the task.

Tip 5: Make compromises
Because resources are already being taxed to near maximum availability, you are going to have to compromise with development resources on what can actually be delivered in the given timeframe.

Making such compromises is a judgment only you can make as a project manager.

Tip 6: Put the worker before you
While the Internet boom has passed, and it isn't as likely that key members of your team will leave for greener pastures, there is nothing to be gained by taking developers and other staff for granted. Your staff members don't have the professional options they once had in the employment market, but things could change.

Cooperation and communication are keys
When developers and other staff members are peppered with constant requests that often pull them in many directions, morale and productivity can take significant hits. Much of the success of the project manager on a project is vested in the staff working on the project. A project manager cannot accomplish a major development project alone, after all.

 

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