4.10. Frequently Asked Questions
The following Frequently Asked Questions, answered by the author of this book, are designed to both measure your understanding of the concepts presented in this chapter and to assist you with real-life implementation of these concepts. To have your questions about this chapter answered by the author, browse to www.syngress.com/solutions and click on the "Ask the Author" form.
Q: There's a guy on our project team who always says, "That won't work."We're getting a bit tired of his negative attitude. Any suggestions?
A: Some people always see the downside to everything. While this can be a drag on the team's momentum, it can also be useful to the team by helping the team (and project) avoid pitfalls no one else has discovered. If you're the project manager, you need to manage this behavior so it's productive and not just a constant negative voice. One of the best ways to do this is to give this guy time to think about whatever's being proposed then set a team meeting to discuss the pros and cons of the proposal. This gives him a legitimate outlet for raising his concerns. Another technique that can be very helpful is to allow him to say, in essence, "That won't work," then press him for ideas on what would work. When someone poses problems without solutions, it's not helpful, so asking anyone who raises potential problems to also suggest ideas for solutions will yield a more positive outcome. In fact, you can make that part of your team processwhenever you raise a problem you must also offer potential solutions. While there are times when people might raise a legitimate problem and not be able to offer a potential solution, it will separate out the perpetually negative people from those who are raising legitimate concerns.
Q: My project team's meetings are a complete waste of time. We just sit around and rehash what we talked about before. Any suggestions?
A: It's possible that your team's project manager is just not good at running meetings. He or she may have a work style that is less organized than others. If you're more organized, you may offer to be in charge of creating team meeting agendas. By proposing both the problem and solution, you'll give the PM a break and you will use your strengths for the good of the team. For instance, you could say, "I know others are comfortable with less structure, but I think there are some on the team, myself included, that could use a bit more structure in our team meetings. Would it be ok if I developed an agenda for each meeting and submitted to you for approval before the meeting? That would help me stay focused and organized during the meetings." If the PM isn't good at organizing and running meetings, he or she will probably be quite thankful for the assistance and because it's positioned as a team aid (rather than addressing the PM's shortcomings), it is more likely to be accepted. It's also important to recognize that you, as a team member, play an important role in the team, not only as a subject matter expert, but as a member of a team that needs to get results. By taking steps to improve the effectiveness of your team meetings, you're demonstrating an important team trait. If every member of the team takes responsibility for ensuring a highly functional team, chances are good it will be one.
Q: I have someone on my team who's from another country and I can't pronounce her name. I gave her a nickname to make it easier. Was that ok to do?
A: That depends. Some people understand that their names are difficult for others outside their country or culture to pronounce and are fine with nicknames. Others may be offended. You might ask this person if the nickname or some other name is her preference. Remember, avoid a yes/no type of question since she may be reluctant to say no, even if she does not like you using a nickname for her.
Q: I have a guy on my team who's in his late 50's and he's a real rules-and-regulations guy. He seems to annoy a number of the younger team members. Any advice?
A: Your approach to this situation is important because you indicated that you only have one older worker on the team. If this is the case, he may feel like the "odd man out."This may actually cause him to become even more focused on what he's comfortable with, which in his case are the rules and regulations. Recognizing his expertise and talents, making sure he's included in non-work team activities, or finding situations to specifically include him or rely upon his talents may help diffuse the situation. Talking as a team about what the rules and procedures are can also help clarify for everyone what's expected. You may also need to talk privately with him about his behavior if he is imposing his views and work style on others. Again, respect his contribution and focus on what you'd like him to do and how he can best contribute.
Q: My IT project team is comprised of several people who are much younger than I am. They're late to meetings, they miss meetings, and they can't seem to deliver results on time. It's driving me nuts. What should I do?
A: Well, there are some interesting dynamics you just described. First, you lumped all of these younger team members into one. Are all of them always late to meetings and miss meetings and deadlines, or are you seeing them as one unit even though they are three or four distinctly different individuals? It's possible your discomfort with their work style is causing you to miss some of their individual differences, so that's one place to begin looking. However, if this is a generational kind of work style issue you're noticing, there are several things you can do. First, make sure your meetings are not a waste of time. Younger team members, in particular, move quickly and have the ability to multitask, which means they can get bored more quickly. If the meetings they're skipping aren't particularly relevant, you may want to make some changes to your meetings. Make them focused by having specific agendas and sticking to them. Make them effective by using everyone's time in the most efficient manner possible. Finally, you may have a performance issue with one or more of these folks. Don't confuse poor performance with other issues. Setting clear performance guidelines and making sure everyone understands what's expected and when is important in all business settings. If team members do not perform to these expectations, you may have to address individual performance.
Q: I've been managing a project team that I "inherited" from a previous project manager. The team is in disarray and is far from being a high functioning team. There are sub-groups and in-fighting, and territorial and political issues running rampant. I don't even know where to start. What do you suggest?
A: Well, you've certainly got your work cut out for you. One way to move through this type of situation is to stop whatever you're doing and completely disassemble the team's structurenot the project, just the team. Privately, you may want to evaluate all the team members to see if you have the right mix of people. It's possible you don't and that's causing some of the problems. Make sure everyone on the team is contributing something needed and if not, remove him or her from the team (yes, politics do come into play and you may not be able to remove some members of the team without major problems. You'll have to use your best judgment in these cases). Essentially, try to wipe the slate clean. Get rid of job descriptions and titles, and get rid of current groupings. Get the team together and tell them you want to start from scratch. Have everyone look at the project and the project team and start by redefining your project and the team's mission or objectives (that's specifically addressed later in this book). It's also possible that the project definition was poor or misguided in the first place or that it has changed over time. When the team has a clear understanding of the project, its objectives, and the team's responsibility, you can begin to create a shared vision of the project. Next, work with the team to clearly define roles and responsibilities based on work styles, subject matter expertise, and skills (and other relevant factors). Realigning the team based on roles and responsibilities can also help break up these sub-group issues. Finally, you may need to get the leaders of these sub-groups aligned with the project's new definition and mission or remove them from the team. It's possible to turn around your rag-tag team, but it will take some work.