The Missing Link

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The Missing Link

Paul Waggoner, MBA, PMP, MCSE, CHP, CHSS Waukee, Iowa, USA

Software project managers agree that one of their most difficult challenges is keeping team members properly engaged in the details of the project, and on top of their assigned tasks and schedules. They understand that team members are conflicted between the routine, operational responsibilities of processing daily work, troubleshooting problems, coordinating departmental issues, and answering everyday communications, and completing the time-sensitive work of project development.

Although selection for a project team may initially be seen as a compliment, many developers feel that participation on a the team is a major distraction from day-to-day duties. When push comes to shove, a developer may openly admit that daily maintenance, and support of assigned systems, are more important to him/her than performing project task work.

As a project manager, your first impulse is to conclude that this person does not belong on the team, if your work can’t, or won’t, be given a clear priority. However, most organizations have limited numbers of subject matter expert’s (SME’s), so changing team members or locating a more dedicated one may not be an option.

Here are a few, simple suggestions to help with this problem.

• Make sure all management levels support the goals and objectives of the project.

• Modify the subject matter expert job description to include “perform as team member on various projects as needed”, instead of “perform other duties as assigned”.

• Have management and Human Resources emphasize this change, and make sure all supervisors weigh project activity achievements heavily in future performance evaluations.

• At the beginning of each new project, the software project manager, the departmental manager or supervisor, the sponsor, or another key stakeholder should send out a personalized communiqué inviting each team member to participate in the project. This letter or e-mail should explain the high level objectives of the project being undertaken, and the high level responsibilities of this specific team member.

• Announce that at the successful conclusion of this project, each team member will receive a Certificate of Recognition and Achievement suitable for framing. Note that a second copy will be placed in his/her Human Resources file to be referenced during quarterly performance reviews.

• The departmental manager’s boss should make it clear that projects advance organizational goals, at even a more important level than the routine Information Technology (IT) tasks do.

• The executive should specifically request that the departmental manager help the project team member free up time on a regular basis to complete the project activities, even if his regular tasks must be temporarily off-loaded to another member of the IT group.

It should be clearly understood that those who successfully participate in projects are “going the extra mile” for the organization and should be recognized and rewarded. Those who participate successfully in large or small projects should be singled out for praise. As they say in the agile world, this puts the “art of the possible” in proper perspective, aligning organizational objectives with employee motivations.

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