The world of projects is a world in which most workers will devote due diligence to the effort in which they are engaged. With the opportunity to participate in planning, attention from the project manager, recognition, rewards, and opportunities to demonstrate skill and competence, most IPM task team members will make a serious effort to successfully complete their project commitments after they start. Starting on time, as previously noted, is something a project manager must give attention to, and walk-about management is one tool used to ensure that this happens.
As the project manager keeps in touch with current tasks, he or she asks task leaders for help in understanding where they are in their task effort, what they need, and what information he or she can pass along to successor task leaders that will be helpful in the task's transitions. This gives the project manager opportunities to evaluate the level of diligence that is being devoted to the task. It gives him or her the opportunity to praise and support the team members, and to identify any unsatisfactory task performances. Although the latter does not happen often, it does occasionally happen, and every project manager must be prepared to deal with it. Dealing with an unsatisfactory performance is something many project managers prefer to avoid. However, they must deal with it because it impacts overall project performance. Overall performance is the project manager's responsibility. Remember: "There is no such thing as a good excuse."
Line supervisors also must deal with unsatisfactory performance. In fact, there is a long history and a great amount of literature on how to do it correctly. An authoritarian approach has its limitations, and the project manager has limited authority. The project manager must approach an unsatisfactory performance firmly but with sophistication.
The first thing the project manager must do when he or she suspects an unsatisfactory performance is to determine why it is happening. For example, the project team may be bogged down with a problem that they do not know how to fix and are unwilling to admit they have a dilemma. The project manager can begin by asking questions about what they are doing and what they might be doing. A project manager's questions often help a task workgroup's members solve their own problems. In addition, the project manager also may help them get outside assistance that they are reluctant to seek. This project manager is solving performance problems as a resource person and as a mentor.
When the project manger discovers that the unsatisfactory performance is basically caused by lack of effort on the part of a task leader or the task team, he or she faces a classic disciplinary problem. Lessons derived from the training of supervisors will guide this response.
The project manager must clearly and precisely identify what is not happening that should be happening. Opinions and impressions do not stand up here data of some relevance must be uncovered. If work progress during the time the task has been underway can be compared to other similar efforts and it is clear that the task is unreasonably and slowly progressing, then this data must be discussed. If work progress is much slower than the task leader committed to during discussions while preparing the Gantt chart, then this data must be discussed. If problems that will affect the outcome have emerged and have not been addressed, then this must be discussed. Never approach a project team member with the statement, "I think there is a problem with how the task is progressing" unless and until you are well prepared to explain why you think there is a problem.
Whenever the project manager raises a question about task performance with a task leader, it must be presented with this attitude: We have a problem, let's try to figure out what we can do about it.
The problem is always addressed as soon as possible, with the task leader in private and on the task leader's own turf. The project manager always goes to the task leader. The project manager never asks the task leader to come to him.
At this point, the project manager and the task leader discuss whether or not there really is a problem. If the task leader accepts the perception that there is a problem, the discussion proceeds to "What can we do about it?" When this discussion ends with action items, it is desirable that the action items are captured in a written work plan on which both the task leader and the project manager are willing to sign off.
If the task leader does not accept the perception that there is a problem, even though it is clear that the task will not be performed well or as scheduled, more firm discipline is required. The project manager writes out his or her perception of the problem with consideration of the current and projected project impact, gives the task leader a copy, and invites him or her to a discussion with the resource manager or supervisor to whom the task leader permanently reports. With or without the task team leader, the project manager promptly schedules a meeting with the resource manager using the prepared documentation. The project manager then asks the resource manager for backup with disciplinary action to get the task back on track, or if necessary, the removal of the task leader and the assignment of a satisfactory replacement. If this does not work, the project manager takes the problem to the project sponsor, seeking his or her help. This help is necessary. There must be discipline and order in the project's workplace and among the project's team members.
There are variations possible for this approach that all seek the same result due diligence devoted to the project task. The project manager must always be prepared to act when discipline is called for. Always discipline workers using a careful, responsible process; give team members every chance to make corrections at steps along the way but do not ignore the problem and hope it will go away. In addition, be sure to document your actions. You are a manager with managerial responsibilities!
It is very important to follow the procedure described here before taking the problem to the project sponsor. It should be clear to everyone on the team that all reasonable steps will be taken before seeking outside intervention; they must believe that this approach is not a threat to any of them. At the same time, the team must realize that the project is important and that the project manager will not ignore unpleasant problems.