Thursday, February 11, 2010

Keeping the Micro out of Manager

Was talking with someone a few days ago, and surprised to discover that we both took the same career path. He was also a front-end web developer for a number of years, then went into web project management. The only difference was after 2-3 years he dropped project management and went back to doing web programming. I asked him why he stopped and his answer was, "I was tired of getting on people to make sure they got their work done, and dealing with the frustration when they didn't. It was too much like babysitting." I nodded, thinking of my own struggles with team members over the years, trying to keep the micro out of manager. Of course, there are always legitimate reasons why something is not done when we originally think it will be. But this is more about how to make sure people are clear on their priorities and know where to go to find help, without having the Project Manager standing right behind them the whole time watching them do their work. Someone I used to work with suggested the 'walk around with a clipboard' technique, a variation of managing by walking around. But, to me it seemed more like I was getting too much in my team members faces, checking off what they have done and asking what was left to finish a task, etc. I prefer to let my team members report this on their own, and give them the tools to do so.

Then there was also the suggestion of putting a big dashboard on the wall, with a list of task and due dates and assignees. Of course this is very visible and a great way for everyone to see what everyone else is doing, but takes time to manage, and it didn't seem to make sense to me to lose time managing multiple tasks lists in different places. Of course, if I could have a projector that would take the team's task list right out of our web based tool and display it on a wall, now THAT would be awesome.

So, what is the best way to make sure work gets done, without breathing down that team member's back (and I'm sure we can all think of atleast one team member that needs this kind of 'help')?

1. Regular status or 'stand-up' meetings are good, keep them standing so that the meeting is quick and on track, and have each team member report:
  • What s/he just finished
  • What s/he will be working on next
  • If there are any issues holding him/her back

2. A strong web based project management and collaboration system, so that all team members can see the online dashboard that lists all critical deadlines and tasks with their assignees. The collaboration system will keep all details in one place so nothing will get lost in email folders or scribbled notes. Team members should be able to log into their personalized dashboard and see their upcoming tasks with due dates, and also get regular email reminders of their upcoming tasks and due dates.

3. And sure, a little bit of walking around is good. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against checking in one-on-one with team members, just having been micro-managed in the past I'd prefer to avoid creeping over to that dark side.

What have you done to keep your team members on track, especially the ones who need a little extra attention?


Mark R Mcconnell said...

Can I as what are you using for your web based task tracking tool?

Dina said...

Hi Mark!
Sure, I use LiquidPlanner for tracking tasks, managing resources, and watching deadlines. I wrote more about LiquidPlanner on an older post, here: