Strategic CIO // Team Building & Staffing
Commentary
5/13/2014
12:36 PM
Bennett Quillen
Bennett Quillen
Commentary
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When IT Pros Don't Cut The Mustard

Before it comes to a transfer or pink slip, every IT project manager should take these steps.

How do IT managers handle project team members who are either non-productive or not performing to their expectations?

If the individual reports directly, or even indirectly, to you in your function or department, you have the authority to deal directly with the underperformer. Your ultimate leverage is your ability to transfer, demote, or fire the person. You also have the annual employee evaluation or less formal day-to-day assessment as your stick. But as a project manager, especially if you're an external consultant, you often don't have that time or leverage. 

As a consultant, I continually parachute into situations requiring the management of 25 to 35 people in an intense situation with aggressive milestones and tight timeframes and budgets. If one or more of the project team members isn't performing up to a standard -- and that standard is often set high because of the project's immediate objectives -- I have a big problem on my hands.

[Good career advice from fairytales: 5 Job Interview Tips Via Alice In Wonderland.]

So how do I deal with such situations? First, I confront the individual one-on-one to find out the underlying problem. Is it a lack of time management or an inordinate number of requirements? Is the person dealing with difficult diversions, perhaps not work related? Or is it simply that the employee is in over his or her head? 

If there are outside diversions, there isn't much I can do for that person. Such individuals must come to grips with the situation and assure you they can handle it. Even so, it's important to establish some key dates for those individuals and closely monitor their progress. As Ronald Reagan once said: "Trust but verify."

If the problem is one of conflicting requirements, the obvious next step is to discuss them with the employee's manager and find ways to reduce or shift the workload. However, for individuals who just can't cope with the workload or don't have the needed experience or skill set, you need to replace them immediately.

Again, as the project manager you must take up the issue with the individual's manager, followed by a meeting among the three of you to identify a solution; that is, to bring in someone who has the necessary skill set and capacity.

In one situation, I was in charge of improving the performance of the production and infrastructure support staff in an IT department. After one or two weeks, it became evident that team members weren't following daily

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Bennett Quillen, a former CIO for a leading mutual fund processing firm, has more than 35 years of experience in financial industry technology, operations, cash management, and compliance. Today he provides financial institutions with project management and technology advice, ... View Full Bio

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bquillen280
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bquillen280,
User Rank: Strategist
5/14/2014 | 3:51:28 PM
Re: Trust but Verify, in Underperforming Project Team Members
Boy, I have to watch my typing!  Dogcat,  Thank you for your excellent response and additional comments, citing some of the challenges you have had.  It is never easy to manage a complex project, especially as an "outsider", is it?  Bennett
bquillen280
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bquillen280,
User Rank: Strategist
5/14/2014 | 3:48:29 PM
Re: Trust but Verify, in Underperforming Project Team Members
Dogcat,  Thank you for yourexellnt response and additional comments, citing some of the challenges you have had.  It i never easy to manage a complex project, especially as an "outsider", is it?  Bennett
dogcat
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dogcat,
User Rank: Guru
5/14/2014 | 11:35:34 AM
Trust but Verify, in Underperforming Project Team Members
I certainly must concur with most of this article; I too have worked as contractor project manager where you parachute into a difficult project. I have frequently thought about why companies bring in outside PMs, especially on large critical projects. I gues they may not have in-house PM capabilities, but why not develop them as in-house people will have orgainzational and political knowledge an outside PM must take time to master. Maybe it's easy to blame an outside PM if a doomed project fails. But, I was bothered by the "Trust but Verify" guidance. The Gipper, former president Reagan, used this in the Cold War context in dealing with the Soviet Union. Recently my boss used that on me when he repeatedly did not believe me when I reported information on an 'as-is' assessment. My source was a high ranking end user SME who had actually built the rogue systems in question. I refused to go back to this executive and ask the same question he had already answered multiple times. In this relationship, the SME and I had established a professionall level of trust. My boss set up a in person meeting with the SME, who then demonstrated on the desktop PC the rogue system he had developed, because the IT shop. my boss's boss, had refused to help the executive.

Verification is a standard process step(s) in mature systems engineering and should be done in routine way in all things. That's why we have PDR, CRDs, milestones, reviews, control gates, etc. These are not being done because of some 'trust' factor, but because as humans developing complex systems, we discipline ourselves, bosses too, in subjecting our work to critical review and ongoing assessment, thest check, verify, cycle. It has nothing to do with trust, and to introduce this cold war advesarial relationship term into a team is just another example of inmature, shaddy management practice.
dogcat
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dogcat,
User Rank: Guru
5/14/2014 | 11:35:08 AM
Trust but Verify, in Underperforming Project Team Members
I certainly must concur with most of this article; I too have worked as contractor project manager where you parachute into a difficult project. I have frequently thought about why companies bring in outside PMs, especially on large critical projects. I gues they may not have in-house PM capabilities, but why not develop them as in-house people will have orgainzational and political knowledge an outside PM must take time to master. Maybe it's easy to blame an outside PM if a doomed project fails. But, I was bothered by the "Trust but Verify" guidance. The Gipper, former president Reagan, used this in the Cold War context in dealing with the Soviet Union. Recently my boss used that on me when he repeatedly did not believe me when I reported information on an 'as-is' assessment. My source was a high ranking end user SME who had actually built the rogue systems in question. I refused to go back to this executive and ask the same question he had already answered multiple times. In this relationship, the SME and I had established a professionall level of trust. My boss set up a in person meeting with the SME, who then demonstrated on the desktop PC the rogue system he had developed, because the IT shop. my boss's boss, had refused to help the executive.

Verification is a standard process step(s) in mature systems engineering and should be done in routine way in all things. That's why we have PDR, CRDs, milestones, reviews, control gates, etc. These are not being done because of some 'trust' factor, but because as humans developing complex systems, we discipline ourselves, bosses too, in subjecting our work to critical review and ongoing assessment, thest check, verify, cycle. It has nothing to do with trust, and to introduce this cold war advesarial relationship term into a team is just another example of inmature, shaddy management practice.
bquillen280
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bquillen280,
User Rank: Strategist
5/14/2014 | 7:14:52 AM
Re: Mustard?
Thank you for your comments, but I think you need to check your idioms. There is of course the phrase: "pass muster", as in troops that need to pass muster. But, there is also the idiom: cannot "cut the mustard". So, the title is quite correct and to use a British phrase: "spot on"!
anon6345729928
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anon6345729928,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/13/2014 | 10:49:08 PM
Mustard?
Uhm you really want to retitle this article. The term is "Cut the muster" or really "Cut muster"

 

See: http://grammarrule.blogspot.com/2006/11/english-grammar-rule-cut-muster-or.html

 

I dont think your grammar passes muster.. :)
bquillen280
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bquillen280,
User Rank: Strategist
5/13/2014 | 2:51:10 PM
Re: Leave Of Absence
Yes; as a matter of fact, the individual took early retirement shortly thereafter.
RobPreston
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RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
5/13/2014 | 2:33:58 PM
Leave Of Absence
I'm curious, Bennett: Whatever happened to that CIO who was placed on a leave of absence and replaced with a subordinate? Did he end up leaving the company shortly thereafter?
 
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