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Like herding cats

By gamboge ·
I've been assigned to manage a guy who's got a history of being disorganized and of taking longer than expected (read: billing lots of hours) to complete tasks. Let me emphasize that I do not think he's "padding" his hours, just has a hard time getting focused and tends to wander. This man is extremely bright and personable and technically excellent and I like working with him --but it's been made clear to me that I'm in charge of reining him in and making sure he sticks to allocated hours and just does what's asked for (he tends to go above and beyond, but there's no time/budget for extras on this project). It's only been a week and already he's done some work that's outside the scope. Advice on keeping him on track?

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This may be the toughest assignment you've ever had.

by DC_GUY In reply to Like herding cats

Apparently, up until now no one has had the decency to let him know that his work is not satisfactory by one important measure: time management. You are on the spot. Lucky you.

What you need to do is develop an extremely detailed list of what is and is not expected on this project, and remind him that the company will not be able to bill their clients for deliverables that were not ordered.

I don't know how your payroll system works. Can he charge the company for time that they can't bill out? Or can you refuse to sign off on his time report if it includes unauthorized activities?

How long has he been there? Has this behavior pattern become established and tacitly accepted? Or have other people tried to deal with it but failed?

If someone is putting you on the spot and asking you do accomplish something that no one else has ever been able to do, it's either a "rite of passage" -- a way of judging YOU by how well you survive it -- or it's the result of some executive deciding that enough is enough and you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Do you have a good relationship with your own superiors and colleagues? Can you frankly ask them how this situation got so bad, how others have tried to fix it, and why they failed? That will give you a lot of clues as to what you might try that hasn't been tried before, how much pushback you will get from a guy who may not even know that he's not doing a perfect job, and how much support you'll get from your superiors if this ends up being a conflict.

If the company is one of those that suddenly found itself in a more difficult economic position and simply has to find ways to cut expenses, you will probably get all the support you need to solve this problem. In that case, your skill will be measured by whether you can actually mentor this person into being a more valuable employee who can be kept on the payroll, or whether you leave the company no choice but to terminate a person who has done a lot of good work for them.

In a situation like this, I never hesitate to make an appointment with a professional: a psychotherapist or an industrial psychologist, someone I already know and trust who makes a career out of dealing with situations like this. It's a hundred bucks or more of my own money, but it could save my job, or at least my own mental health. These people have seen and heard it all. You'd be surprised how in one single session they might give you a dozen ideas for approaching this problem. Just remember that they will NOT give you answers, but they will help you formulate the questions so you know how to find the answers for yourself.

This is a really tough assignment. You will need to take extraordinary measures to come out of it looking good and, perhaps more importantly, feeling good. Think as far "outside the box" as you can.

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toughest assignment

by mikewor In reply to This may be the toughest ...

DCGuy is right on the money. But two things to may help you through. MOST IMPORTANT - do not let the HR department get into this one m- they'll just cause more anxiety and confusion. And in order to keep this guy's morale up (remember you are telling him his work is not up to scratch), get him to document these 'added features' he includes, and take these items that he is adding in through formal change management. You may get some approved, and who knows, maybe the original spec missed something.

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Deliverable is the key

by sayotte In reply to toughest assignment

When you give a contract to an enterprise, you specify what you want, what are the deliverable because you don't want to pay for something you did not asked. In you enterprise, do the same, specify your needs and convert your needs to deliverable.

Thanks,

Serge Ayotte

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Two Words to the Wise - Watch Out!

by dvmarion In reply to toughest assignment

A lot of good and positive advice has been presented here. So, I won't regurgitate any of the tantilizing tidbits. I wiill add though that you should make sure that you are the only one with their hand in the mix. Some times unbeknownst to the mentoring party (you in this case), some other person in a supervisory capacity starts mucking about with a somewhat harmless and even fixable situation and then ends up making the matter worse. Your mentoring job would become even harder then; and perhaps cause the gentleman in question to become defensive, hurt and less productive, before he finally quits our is removed becasue of his now bad (defensive) reaction to all the "bullying." So, my advice is to make sure that all your care and mentoring is not being undermined by some unknown meddler.

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I WAS that guy

by rdavis In reply to This may be the toughest ...

For years I was allowed (with frequent chastisements)to "run free" with projects because the client was satisfied that the right person was handling the job. The supervisor was impressed with the final product and also did not want to create tension between the client and me. However, the client was often frustrated about time being used and would complain to the supervisor that "they" were the ones who had the problem.

I sought help from a psychiatrist about how this (and many, many, many other short-comings) were causing depression and affecting both my personal and business life. There was no easy "quick fix", but I did find out that I suffered from ADHD (and always had. After prescribing the right medication I no longer created the problem by being distracted by ancillary issues somehow connected to the project and I was completing jobs more smoothly and ON TIME!

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I was this guy also

by panzrwagn In reply to I WAS that guy

I didn't need to read too far in to the problem before I recognized the medical condition. Classic ADD/ADHD. Which is more common than you might think in IT workers. I got treatment, Strattera, the first non-stimulant ADD med, and the difference in focus is night and day - like getting glasses. If you think you might have this, and can get past it through diet, 'mental discipline' or anything else, take it from somebody who tried, it won't happen. See a physician who knows this condition, and has experience with adults.

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sounds like ADHD to me

by rocket_scientist In reply to I WAS that guy

Although it sounds like a classic case of ADHD, medical treatment and diagnosis is most likely out of your scope of influence as his employer. Although this may change his behavior, you can't rely on that alone to solve your problem. Besides even with proper treatment you may not see improvement or change for weeks to come.

There are some steps you can take as an employer to compensate and possibly improve your guy. Some may or may not be practical based on how your company runs.

Teamwork. If possible, have him work with another person for whom time management is not an issue. The close interaction with this other person will allow him to use his co-worker's clock to keep pace with the assigned tasks at hand.

Frequent spot checks. More easily said than done, by frequently checking in with him and going over the work plan with him, you are setting the clock and pace for the project. Not a full-blown review meeting every other day, but 10-15 minutes every week or biweekly if possible.

Work plan management with MS Project or comparable package. He may be able to keep his own clock in synch if he visually sees the timeline as it progresses through the project.

I have ADHD. I choose to combat it through non-medical means. I found that if I co-ordinated with my supervisor(s) and co workers using methods like these, I was able to keep myself on track and for the most part on time.

This could wind up being a very good thing for your company, or a very bad thing for you and this guy... it just depends on so many factors. Best of luck to you both!

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"Like herding cats"

by DjayMe-Star In reply to This may be the toughest ...

Instead of imediately over reacting and safe guarding your possition with your "superiors"... why not just have a normal talk with the guy, about the plain facts of his doing unasked for work and therefore doing things, however "neat" and "smart" in design, they are just that unasked for and UNPAID for.
See what happens and take it from there

Do you even realize that YOU are reacting to this as if it is already a BIG problem while you just don't know?

If this person is not willing to co operate do you really believe throwing some smart *** phrases are going to help?

Instead of immediately running to some "professional" when all you need to do is just talk

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"Like herding cats"

by DjayMe-Star In reply to This may be the toughest ...

In stead of imediately over reacting and safe guarding your possition with your "superiors"...

why not just (try to) have a normal talk with the guy, about the plain facts of his doing unasked for work and therefore doing things, however "neat" and "smart" in design, they are just that unasked, and UNPAID for.
See what happens and take it from there

Do you even realize that YOU are reacting to this as if it is already a BIG problem while you just don't know?

If this person is not willing to co operate do you really believe throwing some smart *** phrases are going to help?

Instead of immediately running to some "professional" maybe, just maybe, all you need to do is just talk with the guy. Seems to me nobody wants to do unwanted, unnecessary and thus unpaid for work.

Pardon my english as I'm from Holland

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What you DON'T know CAN hurt you!

by PMPsicle In reply to This may be the toughest ...

I've got to agree with DC Guy on this one up to a point. And with some of his critics.

At this point, you don't have enough information:

About the envirionment -
Are you the first to try?
Is this a set up?
Have others failed?

About the developer -
Is there a physical reason for this behaviour?
Are they unaware of the effect of their behaviour?
Do they believe they're doing what the client wants?

So your first step is going to be to gather information ... on the environment, and on the problem. Once you understand the politics of the situation and the sources of the problem you can determine your next step. Which may involve going to a specialist for help, simply sitting down and talking or may involve micro-managing.

As a side-comment, be careful with your actions. If, in fact, this is a case of ADD/ADHD, it qualifies as a disability situation and may need to be dealt with appropriately (i.e. reasonable accommidation).

Glen Ford
Can Da Software
IS Project Management
Business Systems & Process Improvement

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