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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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A Voice of Reason?

by rjkissell In reply to Do you want robots

Thank you.
It's obvious that this person delivers results above and beyond what's expected. Do we force every "genuis" to conform to what we've learned in the last decade of mindless seminars?
Let him create!

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Robots and Reason

by Bebelos In reply to A Voice of Reason?

Sadly, this might actually be the case. Perhaps the conformist, robotic nature of your company culture simply isn't the place for this guy.
I would much rather work as this employee does than simply "do what is asked" as if someone were pressing buttons on my console. Assuming that the in disease (AADD/ADHD, in this case) is the cause would be jumping to conclusions; especially now, when the majority of ADD/ADHD diagnoses in children are coming under serious scientific fire from the medical research community.

The simple truth may be that your guy simply finds no challenge or real satisfaction in the work assigned, and embellishes his work to maintain that element in his life; using it to add a personal flavor to everything he does.

There also may be a disconnect in the way he views the work and the result. The work and its quality is obviously important to him. Explaining the value of results and involving him in the rewards for timely completion of each project may help to focus his efforts.

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by hvpurs In reply to Like herding cats


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What kind of type is he?

by tst In reply to Like herding cats


I think you have to realise what kind of type this person is. When you realise this you can then pint out the parts of the project that fit to his way of working.

If he's the type that likes to think ahead and see new possiblities, you would have to slant the project showing him were these areas fit to his way of working.

The problem here is if he's the type that doen't like to, let's say, documentate his work. Then you might have to walk him through it.


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I'm that guy!

by f-626541 In reply to Like herding cats

I was that guy. Typically, I saw a whole bunch of things nobody else saw: hidden flaws waiting to arise, broken processes, poor documentation, hardware problems masquerading as software problems, or sometimes a novel idea.
I was in one organization in which I collected problem reports and loaded them into a three ring binder. I was promised that I could work on those problems when The Big Project was done. Of course, when The Big Project was done, I was laid off. I am told that the three ring binder is lost. And I am told that they encountered some problems I predicted.
Most people want to do a good job of whatever it is they are doing. So does this guy, as you yourself have noted "He tends to go above and beyond". So it may very well be that he sees things nobody else sees, and that is his source of trouble.
Have you tried listening to him? Find out from him what he thinks is important. It may be that the assignments are more problematical than your estimates would suggest.
Also, you absolutely positively must be straight with this guy - if you lie, promise something you can't deliver, or otherwise are less than honest, he will find out (extremely bright people tend to do that - read Dilbert!). If your core value is "we will deliver on time and under budget no matter what", then he may very well decide that he just not a good fit for your organization. Frequently, very bright people have trouble with the concept of "good enough".

But be careful. I've seen organizations that lost a key person and didn't realize he was a key person until after he was gone. I've also seen organizations that got into trouble because they wanted "good enough".

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All good advice

by Schr?dinger's Cat In reply to I'm that guy!

Most of the other responses should help you reach your goal. I assume that your role in this case is as project manager or technical lead, right?
I would advise doing the following:
a) Talk to him about the issue as a colleague, not in a lecturing or superior way.
b) At each team meeting be sure to emphasize (not directed at anyone in particular) remaining on task an in scope.
c) Make yourself available to discuss technical challenges with anyone. Stop by your "challenge person" once or twice a day to see how he is doing. Ask what he is working on...if it in scope, ask how it is going and leave him to it (assuming he doesn't ask for advice). If he is out of scope (or even heading there) remind him of the conversation you had in (a).
d) Either in team meetings or individually review project tasks accomplished, in progress, stopped for dependency, or slowed by challenges. Do this regularly. If anyone is out of scope, get them back...

The key then, is management and leadership. Managers know what their people are doing. They listen to the opinions of their people, and they immediately step in to resolve things that are wrong or headed that way, rather than letting them get so bad that correcting the problem is very difficult (the apparent error of your predecessor).

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A Few Reasons

by JohnnySacks In reply to I'm that guy!

I tend to have the same affliction, and not just in the software field either. Two reasons that I tend to take more time than I should:
1. I'm always assigned to the clean-up batter team on projects after the 'just-good-enough' philosophy has garnered praise for the leaders, designers, architects, etc. and they have moved on to bigger and better things. Meanwhile the thing is plagued with problems, mostly minor in scope but major in quantity. What's worse, the customer has now become involved and the company reputation is on the line. Very painful knowing how little extra up-front effort it would have taken to avoid the suituation.
2. Having changed jobs and careers, I feel each project is an education and I must gain as much knowledge and understanding as possible. If this was discouraged, I knew I was a throw-away resource.
3. Damn, that desire to do the right thing - always keeps getting in the way. Give the people what thay want: schlep it together, toss it over the fence, go home and mow the lawn. Toss as many band-aids on as required later and move on. Never look back.

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Lots of Reasons

by weblink In reply to A Few Reasons

There are lots of reasons people take longer than they "should". But the fact is that if you say you're going to do something in x amount of hours, you better get it done in x amount of hours! As a programmer myself I know the desire to do things right -- I'm a perfectionist. However, I also realize that I commit to the estimates I give. I try to do my very best with what time I have.

Don't add features unless you've discussed them with your superiors. Even if you have the time to add features, you could introduce more work in the long run by adding things that weren't requested (i.e., it's just another thing that can go wrong and another thing you have to test).

You can be creative, do things right, and learn from what you do without wreaking havoc. Provide realistic estimates of your effort and communicate with your employer about what you're doing and why. If you know you take longer because you want to do things your way, then estimate higher. This won't mean you're always going to love the end product, but you can rest easy knowing that you did your best and lived up to your commitments.

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An overrun or a bad estimate?

by Paymeister In reply to Lots of Reasons

Scotty quadrupled his time estimates and always got things done early. My problem is pride - I think I can accomplish things faster than I really can, or I double- and triple-book my time, and what WERE good estimates for each project get pushed by the booking factor. I am sure that my wife and boss would be happier if I actually delivered fewer results but really did so when I said I would, rather then promising being late all of the time or not delivering at all.

For the issue at hand, it could be that (given this fellow's skill and creativity) everyone really could live with the long timeframe IF the client *really does* get this fellow's good product within that limit. If it is included in the budget, it isn't an "overrun".

Perhaps he may not have to modify his behavior as such, just the realism of his estimates (or the timeframes he is given).

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YES, YES, YES!!! -- ME, too!

by nicole In reply to I'm that guy!

I am also that girl! I agree 1,000% with Jeff's post!!!

After twenty years in the this business, I have come to understand many things about how people work together in business relationships. That "troublesome" person may indeed see things no one else does, and indeed may be much better at estimating project effort than those who are currently performing the estimates. However, as a software architect I have been on the estimating side as well. Also, as an owner of a consulting firm I had been on the client management side of the equation. The real problems with this employee may not lie with the employee per se but with the client-contractor relationship itself, and/or the way your company is run, and/or the culture in which your company is emeshed.

Sometimes those in charge of estimating are not good at estimating, but sometimes they are. Sometimes estimators may not have the liberty of providing honest estimates if sales or client management is under intense competitive pressure (and bows to such). Sometimes the clients themselves have preconceived notions of effort and will not change their mind. In any of these cases, perhaps this employee is simply not a good fit for the environment. I agree that this employee (like myself, and Jim) may have a deep emotional problem with "just good enough" (believe you me, I've worked in the pre-eminent JGE organization in this country--not to mention any names--and I had an ENORMOUS problem with that concept). In the case where the problem is systemic, then the employee should seriously consider alternate employment (I no longer work for this particular company). Yes, that is a difficult situation to be in but I have never seen any other good alternative.

I am now putting together my own software company, allowing me to put my money where my mouth is (again) and run things my own way (again). Perhaps this is ultimately the best alternative for your employee as well.

Given my sympathies, I would be glad to help you coach this individual. Send them my e-mail address. My bias is to help them find a way to stay within your organization. One way of doing so is to get your employee directly involved with estimating and perhaps even sales efforts (I have seen this work very, very well). Give me a shout, and I can provide you with some pointers in this regard as well.

Good luck, and don't be afraid to write (

Nicole Tedesco
Software Architect

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