Staying in touch without being smothering.

I recently came across a website/service on a start-up forum that I thought  people might find interesting.  The service is targeted towards project managers, as a tool for staying in touch with a team and opening up team communication.  What the service does is allow you to set up arranged update times, say every week or every day, and then automatically sends out an email reminder requesting the update to each member of the team.  Once each person replies to the update, the statue updates are gathered into a single email and sent out to all the team members in a single email covering everyone’s updates.

As a person who absolutely loathes the rampant spread of the needless reply all use, this seems like an ideal way to be kept informed on a project without having to delete every single person’s update one at a time.  Aside from the streamlined update email, the ability to schedule them across the project lifetime in advance and then set the expectation for response across the team seems like an added benefit.

No one in the work world likes to feel like they’re being micro-managed and constant requests for updates would start to feel like that quickly for many people.  By setting the expectation of scheduled update communication emails, you are able to frame the  situation as a means for keeping everyone involved and informed as well as offering up a means for progress tracking.  The involvement of all team members would also offer and added incentive to keep on track.

The single status update email could also be beneficial for people only loosely tied to a project.  If a person was informed of what steps would have to happen before they were needed, the status updates would allow that person to plan their time more effectively as opposed to suddenly finding their contribution needed without warning.  Management would also benefit from the updates in that they would receive a single snapshot of the project on regular intervals so decisions on allocating additional resources or adjusting timetables can be made fluidly.

For project managers out there, do you think you would use this service?  As it stands right now, it appears to be free, would a price tag change your decision?  How useful would you have found a single condensed weekly update from all team members in the past?

Escalating when works is not being completed

I read an article from Project Times that focused on escalation when work is not being completed.  In many environments and project structures, those doing portions of the work on the project are not likely to report directly to the project manager.  Oftentimes, these people may be on multiple projects or if a standard employee in a company, might not normally have project based work at all.  The article looks at what you can do when the work that needs to be done for your project isn’t getting done and the steps for moving above the person to force progress.

The three steps given in the article are:

  1. Determine the impact
  2. Discuss the situation and impact with the team
  3. Escalate

The idea is to first determine how significant the impact is and gather concrete examples, discuss the situation with the under performing member and see if the situation can be corrected, if not correctable, inform the employee you will be escalating to their manager, and finally escalate to the manager.

The article goes over the fact that oftentimes, it isn’t a situation of an employee being unwilling to complete work given to them but rather the simple fact that they’ve been given too much and just don’t have the time to get to your project.  Options that are offered up are redefining their workload, bringing in someone else, or other options that can free them up like transferring other work they’re responsible for.

The article finishes by listing rules for escalating:

  • Business policy is primary, then project policy.
  • Only discuss the problem, not the person.
  • No surprises: Notify those involved as to your next steps.
  • Notify your management before you escalate to a team members manager.
  • Document your examples, conversations, and resulting commitments.

I think this article gives a fairly concise look at ideal resolution process for when work isn’t getting done within a project in most cases where people involved are known to each other.  However, I do feel it is lacking in that it ignores situations where people don’t have normal contact as in situations where people are located states or even countries apart and only marginally connected to a project.  I believe in situations where say a legal team is needed to sign off on a project, it may be best to move right to top down pressure if possible.  While a clear line of communication likely exists between your manager and yourself, and your manager’s manager, it is possible no strong communication exists between yourself and the legal team.  For the legal team, a minor contract revue may be far down their list, and repeated attempts at discussions and emails are likely to not product any effects.  Direct communication up your chain, and the cross communication at a higher level to produce quick results may be easier and more effective.  As with most things of course, each situation is unique.