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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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Why not assign this discussion as reading?

by Paymeister In reply to Start from this posting

Why not just give him the assignment to read this discussion?

Tell him your concern (namely, you want to treat him right, but need to tighten things up), and ask him to review these entries and tell you which things seem to apply to him and which things seem to be off base. Set a goal or two (like the spiral binder mentioned by Nomograph), and see where it goes. That way, we're the ones bringing up awkward topics rather than you... I know I would profit from that approach, and am considering giving the link to my boss.

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herding cats

by lantonio In reply to Like herding cats

There is a technique that we employ in our developers group. We usually assign projects to two or three developers. The team is composed of one systems analyst, who does the analysis and design and one or two programmers to do the programming. At the planning phase of the project, we do Implementation Planning Workshop/Writeshop. There are four expected outputs which are the Planning Template, the Current Reality Dialogue (CRD) template, the Implementation Plan (IP) and the Risk Analysis and Contingency Plan. The length of days of these meetings depend on the size of the project. At most, two days. It is usually led by the Software Developer Supervisor because she is the one to monitor the progress of the project and the one to evaluate the performance of the developers. The Planning Template should contain the project description, project objective/s, the expected output/s and the desired outcome/conditions. The IP should contain the detailed activities that the developer/s must do in order to achieve or arrive at the objectives. The IP identifies who is responsible for the activity, when is the start and end date of each of the activity, the resources needed to do the activity and the expected output of the activity. The IP is agreed by the developer, the supervisor and the client of the project. You know, i let them sign a document which becomes the agreement of the developer and the client as to the timeframe of delivering the outputs. The Risk Analysis is a register of things that the developer think will block the attainment of the deliverables which is supported by a Contingency Plan which are probable solutions to these risks. Now these four documents are kept in a project folder ( digital and hard copy) and every week, Friday, is reporting day. Thursday afternoon, a reminder is sent to individual terminals of the developers reminding them to submit the digital copy of the Progress Report. The Progress Report contains already the scheduled activity/ies for the week and the expected output, these are taken from the agreed IP. Then we have oral reporting of output on Friday afternoon with the client. We found this technique very effective. And you know what, we discovered that once you really show that you are interested in all that's happening to their project meaning they know that you are keeping track of their activities, they tend to be disciplined, productive and really a team. And on the part of the supervisor, you will realize that when evaluation period comes, your rating has basis.

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My old boss had the solution ..

by Dilbert_Envy In reply to Like herding cats

I was the same guy, until one day my old boss hit me with this one:

"DEEV, you do great work, and some time someone will put you in charge of research and new concepts. Until then, I can only pay you for what is in the defined project scope, so your pay this week will reflect only that time. I'm really sorry about those 12 hours that you spent on the extras -- but since the client isn't paying for them, neither can we. Please, next time ask me first."

It cured me right away ...

Dilbert_Envy.

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Sweet! This is like taking a padded baseball bat to someone.

by DRiv In reply to My old boss had the solut ...

This is like taking a padded baseball bat to someone. Cures the problem without interjection. Will definately use sometime.

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Like herding cats

by lori In reply to Like herding cats

I am a Meta-Coach, and my specialty is ADD/ADHD. It seems to me that this man has Attention Deficit Disorder, to give it it's full name. An ADHD Coach would be able to help hugely - briefly he needs to be accountable, needs to understand that the task is like an umbrella, and EVERYTHING he does must be linked to that umbrella. He needs structure and strategy - you will probably find his IQ is higher than most, and his ADDvantage is his energy, tenacity and creativity. P.S. I am in South Africa.

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Two ideas - from experience

by Dilbert-Tom In reply to Like herding cats

I was 50 when I was (finally) diagnosed ADD/ADHD/Narcoleptic, medication has made a dramatic difference in my ability to percieve what I am doing related to what I am SUPPOSED to be doing. The diagnosis process took nearly three years before my doctor realized that perhaps I needed to be screened for 'Attention Issues' (I already had been diagnosed with 'Sensory sensitivity' . There are a lot of things that make us all different - some that medical treatment can help with and some that we need to learn about ourselves [like tolerating the whine of fluorescent lights, or smell of a smoker who uses enough perfume to make my eyes water in an elevator].
Along with possibility of medical issue(s), there is always room for more precise management. Several have suggested not assigning the entire 'project' at once but rather assigning 'sections' of 8-20 Hours, working with the worker to have them identify tasks to report specific hours to, but what I have done that has helped me a great deal (even while using medication for other issues) is to accumulate 'side issues' as 'New Requests' for enhancements - to be able to dismiss them mentally while assuring that the ideas are not lost. I have found that many of these are often found to be very desirable - especailly if I can quantify Cost : Benefit in concrete, measurable terms. Of course these are often assigned back to me, for I probably can complete these faster than anyone else - knowing exactly what needs to be done.
To summarize (as I do tend to be a bit verbose also):
1) Encourage Medical screening if medical issues are suspect.
2) Establish a means to document needed enhancements to be reviewed, some of them may be vital.
3) Ask yourself "How did I identify that the work was outside the scope ?" and think of how to get that worker to see what you saw - ask him to help you (and 'blame' management wanting to understand what's taking so long). Suggest meeting Tuesdays and Thursdays till he's on track.

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Asperger's Syndrome

by martyconnelly In reply to Two ideas - from experien ...

As long as everyone is doing an unqualified medical diagnosis, you might want to consider Asperger's Syndrome. Bill Gates and Thomas Edison have been ascribed the symptoms.

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Three suggestions

by Websugg In reply to Like herding cats

I couldn't resist responding; I think this is important because the person is obviously motivated, and it is worth making sure you handle this the right way. Here are my 3 suggestions:

1) In talking to this person, make sure the issue of how he prefers to work is kept separate from the billing issue. If he is inspired to do extra work on his own dime, that's fine, as long as he doesn't bill for it and delivers what's required on time.

2) Make sure requirements are sufficiently clear, and that they do not make assumptions about limits that are merely "understood."

3) If this person is talented in coming up with other things that would benefit the client, or in finding flaws with the requirements, why not involve him earlier in the process? Get him to learn how to sell his proposals, and involve him in the sales or scope-defining process.

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One more thought!

by EmmaNemms In reply to Like herding cats

Everyone has touched on lots of good possibilities (e.g., ADHD, closer mgmt, etc.) and made excellent suggestions. Given the amount of detail you've provided, it does sound as though he has some degree of ADHD--an easier problem to fix than someone who is incompetent or padding their hours.

There is another possibility to consider however. There are generally two camps: (1) those who think of going to the moon and (2) those who get you there. IT/tech types tend to be in the latter group--meaning they are detail oriented versus "big picture" types. Of course we all possess both traits, but some of us are on the extreme ends of those camps.

If your employee is on the extreme end of being detail oriented, then he will definitely always find it harder to "quickly" work through a project because he will constantly feel compelled to stop and fix errors, omissions, inconsistencies, etc., which are glaring to him and not necessarily obvious to other coworkers.

Therefore, if ADHD is ruled out, then perhaps "how" this employee is utilized within your company should be addressed. Hopefully, there is room to capitalize on his strengths.

Specifically, as in my case, I am assigned the QA portion of projects--I "find" the errors, inconsistencies, etc., which my coworkers either do not have the time to find or do not have the ability to notice. They get the project completed, then I come in to be sure everything is correct, consistent, as requested, etc., thereby taking it to the "next level." The process is similar to giving your term paper to an editor for fine-tuning.

Who would you rather have as your surgeon--the one who'll get you into recovery quickly so that he can move on to his next patient or the one who'll take the extra time needed to be sure that he is amputating the correct leg!? I'll take the "slower" doc any day. In your case, your organization may need to decide if it "needs" the detailed oriented person at all or can "get by" with the quick surgeon who "usually" gets the job done right! JMHO. Good luck (to both of you)!

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A slightly different viewpoint

by paulyvee In reply to One more thought!

If the problem is one of him not being motivated to stay on project track then a change of environment - his own office for example may help.
If the problem is simply working outside the parameters of the job then make him an assistant superviser on the next job so that he can be more responsible for bringing in the jobs on time and within budget.
Without saying much about his work practices you are admiring the work he has previously done and at the same time he shoud learn that "time is money" and that even if he has not yet got the management skills to control other programmers he will be in place to see the cost overruns from slow priogramming or the lack of benefit from "over - programming" in some cases solving problems which may never come up and may not exist.
As an example of over programming I had a programmer who insisted on validating every single keyboard input from operators. He drove us bananas when we had to strip out a load of error trapping when prices radically changed - outside the originally projected product price variation.

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