It's me against the alpha males!
December 4, 2007 6:17 AM   Subscribe

Project ManagementFilter: It's me against the alpha males! Help me bring them into the 21st century.

My position at work will be changing next year to include more project management, wherein I will be responsible for ensuring follow-up on tasks by a group of individuals whose work styles are very different. My challenge will be to create and “enforce” (enable?) adherence to some sort of structure, format, whatever, of posting tasks and reporting on % complete, progress to date etc. to a location where anyone interested could log in or request a report at any time and it “should” be current as of that date.

My preference would be to use SharePoint, but many of those involved will not be overly receptive to its techie nature. These are guys who are used to little or no oversight, running into each others’ offices, impromptu hallway chats, manic email flurries, etc. and will resent/refuse/otherwise balk at efforts to corral them into a more regulated means of tracking their work, even if the request to do so does come from on high.

I am in charge of making sure others stay on track and communicate to the group about their work. Where I stand to fail is not if their work isn’t done, but if the group/upper management does not stay timely informed as to the progress of tasks and if required follow-up does not occur when it’s supposed to. However, my skills are in systems (I have created a kickass SharePoint site, but it’s useless if no one uses it) and in prioritizing/handling my own work. I am not a manger of people -never have been; yet I recognize this type of work is a form of management. I don’t adore lots of phone time, running people down to get their input, etc. I am an email gal and expect others to thrill to the wonders of interactive applications like SharePoint the same way I do.

I envision a future of endless nagging and ongoing struggles to enforce conformity to technology on people who naturally resist it (read: non-techie alpha males in their 50’s).

Help me create something that works for both sides. What can I do to make it easy/more appealing/not a chore for them (and more importantly, for ME)?
posted by I_Love_Bananas to Technology (19 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have a particular software solution in mind, but I do have some thoughts on the overall philosophy:

Do make it clear that you want them to continue the hallway conversations, email flurries, etc, but that you also want them to translate that stuff into more-or-less tangible milestones that they can use to keep people posted on where they are with their projects.

I am not big on meetings, but I think your group would benefit from a weekly status meeting. Keep it brisk, keep it short, keep it structured and have a clear leader in the meeting. This gives you a chance to demonstrate to the group exactly how they should track their progress, and help the non-techie folks stay current on their reporting. They are going to have trouble with any system, and will need some help getting over the hump. After that,. you will still have some folks who don't do a good job tracking, and you will have to hound them, but here again the meeting is important: If they know that they have to present an outline of their progress to their peers and/or bosses, well, they have to at least think about defining that progress, and that is half the battle. Plus, you can publicly shame them into doing their recording if need be.

Good luck!
posted by Mister_A at 6:38 AM on December 4, 2007

You need to make it worth their while to use the tool.

Negative reinforcement
Let it be known that failure to keep up to date will get them a nagging visit from you. Track logins to the tool and send automated emails if they're not in there at least once every 24 hours. You'll need to follow up on your threatened visits for a while but eventually they'll realize it's easier to fill the stuff out on time and avoid the nagging.

This may work more or less depending on the office and personalities involved. Display day to day statistics on the dashboard that amount to high scores as an incentive to keep up to date. The type of statistics could be a bit politically sensitive if they feel their performance is being monitored rather than simply their tool use. Highest overall percentage completeness, most tasks completed that week, most frequent logins, most recent logins.

Making their lives easier
Do they currently have any irritating, onerous tasks that could be made easier by use of the tool? If you add spoonful of sugar, it will make the medicine go down.
posted by rocketpup at 6:44 AM on December 4, 2007

I'm a techie male in my early thirties, and if somebody tried to force me to do stuff in Sharepoint, I'd be very reluctant to cooperate. Your problem as I see it is not so much the level of techiness, but the fact that people often have their own way of doing things, often religiously fine-tuned over decades of professional experience. Read some productivity blogs, and you'll see that there is a lot of different ways of doing something as basic as handling a to do list.

If I were you, rather then focusing on some random technology you happen to know, I'd try to find out how they currently track their own progress. Talk to people, interview them, find out why they do things the way they do. Emphasize that you're trying to learn from their experience. Get them to be on your side. Take them serious. Chances are that you will learn lots of interesting things along the way. Your wording ("me against the alpha males") suggests that you're intimidated and/or confrontative. Rethink that.
posted by dhoe at 6:52 AM on December 4, 2007 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Talk to people, interview them, find out why they do things the way they do. Emphasize that you're trying to learn from their experience.

I agree that this is a good idea and I have planned to meet with them individually to get a clearer picture of each person's style.

The problem is, I have been given this role in response to managment being fed up with the lack of coordination and randomness to date with regard to how they handle the work. Their "own way of doing things" up to now is what got them to this point. Management has specifically stated they want a more stramlined process and a "more techie" solution, with knowledge that it wll (at first) a bitter pill.

SharePoint was suggested and top dogs liked it, therefore it's the option we're going to try first. No matter what is selected as the tool, the job wil lbe to get them to think collaboration rather than "my work."

Each piece of the process needs to integrate with the others, which they know in their heads, but in practice they revert to old patterns.

I also agree that rewarding good behavior is a good way to encourage use of whatever tool is used and will work that into my plan.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 7:08 AM on December 4, 2007

Whatever system you choose, making it easy and fast should be your main priority. If it's as quick as writing an e-mail, and they already write e-mails, why wouldn't they do it? Click, type, save, they're done.

On the other hand, if they have to click, wait, click, wait, click, type, click, wait... you get the idea. An awful lot of what gets dismissed as "technophobia" is really just very sensible and right-minded resistance to poorly designed and/or badly implemented systems.

Also, be sure to figure out how it's going to benefit them as individuals (not as a team, and not just "if you do it you won't get fired"). If there's nothing in it for them, they're just going to resentfully consider it an extra layer of bureaucracy keeping them from doing their jobs -- and the worst thing is that they'll be right.
posted by No-sword at 7:23 AM on December 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Where I stand to fail is not if their work isn’t done, but if the group/upper management does not stay timely informed as to the progress of tasks and if required follow-up does not occur when it’s supposed to.

This is key. Measurements or tracking with no visible or obvious benefit for the individual, which are primarily there to keep someone higher up informed, are always a hard-sell.

In order to get people onboard with project management, you need to show them what the benefit to them is going to be. I.e. carrot rather than stick, otherwise it's just another piece of management overhead which they feel adds nothing to their work.

The best possible way to show this is to demonstrate that effective task-tracking will make their jobs easier, reduce stress and clarify who needs to do what. It's all too easy for project management to feel like you're being checked up on constantly, and for people to spend so much time reporting their progress that it actively hinders their ability to make progress.

You've said that they are going to resent/refuse and balk at attempts to corral their activity. Therefore, don't do anything that feels like being corralled. Here's how I'd do it:

- Recognise that these guys aren't going to use your Sharepoint site. From the sound of it, they're right into using email though. Generally the business world can handle one game-changer communication method per decade. These are the same guys that clung to steno pads and typewriters when email and PCs came in.

- Schedule meetings when and if they are necessary. Constant 'update' meetings are a royal pain, and do nothing, especially if they become an end in themselves. Here's the tyranny of project management from the other side.

- Make clear your motives. Don't say 'Please email me your current status on A, B and C.'. Instead, say:
"Hi, as you know, a big part of my role is to track and report all the work we're doing, to make sure we're getting things done when we should, anticipate problems and hopefully minimise the last minute death marches. I don't want reporting to turn into a deathly chore, but I do need to do a few things, namely (a confirm what each of you are working on b) know how you're doing with it and c) be informed whenever the status of something changes, for the better or the worse. I'll gather this information up, simplify it and share it with everyone so that you will all have a clearer picture of who's doing what, why and how they're doing.

- Once you've sent out that email, visit each of them with a 'Quick guide to reporting' printed out, that outlines what they have to do. Namely a) Send you a 'starting out' email with all their current tasks and statuses (make it simple, statuses like 'Not started', 'Planning', 'Doing', 'Reviewing' and 'Done' then b) get them to fire you a one-liner email whenever anything changes. This might sound like a lot of work, but I've found the constant small feeling of achievement people get from reporting incremental successes is a morale booster, and it's really not all that much work if all you have to do is duck into an always-open spreadsheet and change a status drop-down.
posted by Happy Dave at 7:27 AM on December 4, 2007 [7 favorites]

It's all too easy for project management to feel like you're being checked up on constantly, and for people to spend so much time reporting their progress that it actively hinders their ability to make progress.

That's big. I've worked at places where I spent so much time recording time that I joked that I needed a code to record my time-recording time.

And I agree with Happy Dave about excessive meetings, but some face-to-face meetings are indispensible. Getting everyone in the same room is a great way to figure out where you really are on a project, and to troubleshoot issues that will arise.

Oh, and I've been using baase camp for a few months, and it's really simple and convenient to use on a per-project basis.
posted by Mister_A at 7:33 AM on December 4, 2007

I've worked at places where I spent so much time recording time that I joked that I needed a code to record my time-recording time.

I've worked at a place where we had one. The time tracking system didn't last long...
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 7:41 AM on December 4, 2007

You don't help yourself by tossing labels like "alpha males" and "dragging them into the 21st century" around. From the sound of it, the ones who need to be dragged into the 21st century are in the management chain who want 20th century reports.
posted by dws at 7:48 AM on December 4, 2007

Response by poster: dws, I only used those terms to emphasize the gap that exists between us in terms of work style and overall attitude. They are old-school business types and are great people, just tough to adapt to new things.

I don't mean the terms derogatorily. Part of my challenge is that I must jump in the deep end with people who I normally would not have to interact with, and from whom my own methods could not differ more. I will be struggling just as much as they will.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 7:56 AM on December 4, 2007

My organization is implementing SharePoint next year; we're currently obligated to participate in a rather annoying mush-mouthed attempt at transitioning to project management. My office sounds a lot like yours.

Easy and fast and non-redundant are very important.

People need not only an instruction manual for the system, but also some personalized instruction time to help them figure out how to "translate" their job into this new system. Otherwise, it's just frustrating gobbledygook to them, no matter how intuitive the system is to someone more comfortable with software.

Identify the people who are more comfortable with software in each department and deputize them. Give them more advanced training and empower them to help train their colleagues.

Proofread those reminder e-mails carefully before you hit send. I don't know what it is about IT people, but the attempts at "clear instructions" I receive are invariably bizarre, redundant, and kind of condescending. (Yes, I know that IT folks get a lot of stupid questions. I'm your friend, here, though, so please don't piss me off.) Oh, and with a couple of spelling or grammar errors. Grr.

Do not underestimate the appeal of the "neato!" factor on non-techie alpha males in their 50’s (and everyone else. too.) Make this tool fun, and you'll reel 'em in. Can you set up some sort of "push this button and see a colorful chart" thingy? It's always satisfying to see progress meters.

Don't even try to make this all about consensus. If everyone knew what was best, they wouldn't need this.
posted by desuetude at 7:58 AM on December 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

"These are guys who are used to little or no oversight, running into each others’ offices, impromptu hallway chats, manic email flurries, etc. and will resent/refuse/otherwise balk at efforts to corral them into a more regulated means of tracking their work, even if the request to do so does come from on high."

None of those things are work product that seems worthy of tracking, so don't get it stuck in your head that this highly-communicative work style is something that needs to be changed in order to keep track of these guys. It's not. Your management wants to hear about progress, not about who said what to who in the elevator. As such, your natural urge to control, organize, and track the conversations seems misplaced.

What you want to do is find the part of their workflow that you can "hook," and give them the means to say "Z in progress, a little less than halfway done. X and Y complete as of this morning." All the emphasis about making that process fun and easy is right on the money, but I'd add one more adjective: UNOBTRUSIVE.

Keep your eyes on the basic project management goal here: track progress and status, get issues recorded so they aren't lost. You can certainly ask that people try to make it easier for you, but don't expect stellar results if you try to wedge "Get It Done" type people into a "Keep Detailed Track of It" workflow. Their job's do do things and it's your job to let them do it while extracting the information you need.

"My preference would be to use SharePoint, but many of those involved will not be overly receptive to its techie nature."

Also keep in mind that a lot of people resist SharePoint because most implementations run like shit and require massive deviations from workflow to accommodate the tool. Don't do tool selection like this before you do requirements analysis, because it's a recipe for pissing off the people whose help you need most.
posted by majick at 8:16 AM on December 4, 2007

Positive Reinforcement:

Use your preferred management tool (SharePoint?) to invite the people you are assuming control of to morale-boosting events. Start out by sending an email with a link to the SharePoint invite or whatever, and let them know that future invites will ONLY be done on SharePoint. Possible morale-boosting: happy hour after work, group lunch, bringing breakfast goodies and letting people know they are there (leave them on your desk and put a "password" on SharePoint they need before letting them have some!)

Above all else, alpha males follow their stomachs. ;-)
posted by Doohickie at 8:17 AM on December 4, 2007

My 2cents,...

Human nature being what it is... you cant "MAKE" people do things (or another way of saying it, it'll take a phenomenal amount of effort to try changing their habits with no guarantee you'll be successful)

If the orders are really coming down from "on high".. then I would make 2 things very very very crystal clear to those you are working with. 1.) You didnt make the new rules.. and 2.) You're just trying to find the best/easiest way to accomplish them.

In my job.. when rules and processes change, I'm expected to adapt to them. The same as pretty much anyone else on my team, we have the "3 strikes, your out" rule... If you're not following procedures, you get talked to or written up, if this happens 3 times.. your fired. Are there no disciplinary actions tied to this new process ?... (I understand firing may be unlikely for older 50's "alpha-males" who may have history/weight (read: owed favors) in the office... but still)
posted by jmnugent at 8:17 AM on December 4, 2007

The labs that I've worked in have all run on a similar idea to how it sounds yours is working now. I.E., those of us that weren't in the same room were down the hall, and email was a pain compared to getting up and asking them a question face to face. For every major thing done, though, we'd have a quick right-before-lunch-so-no-one-will-let-it-run-over meeting where the feature/whatever would be introduced, and everyone would talk about it. Someone would record all of this on a Wiki page, including who was there/what concerns were raised/new ideas stemming off of that/etc. Eventually the person whose 'thing' it was would send out a little paragraph or so "this is the plan now" email based on what was recorded.

My point with all of that is similar to previous ones.. don't try to force them into a new structure, because it probably won't work all that well for them. Figure out the least invasive way to get the information you need - if you can combine it with something productive or at least interesting for them, even better, but telling everyone 'you need to use SharePoint now" is going to result in a lot of people still doing things the old way and doing a half-assed job of copying over whatever minimum they need to SharePoint.
posted by devilsbrigade at 9:03 AM on December 4, 2007

Time tracking is tough. Even if you manage to get everybody to do it (a big if), you can't force them to be very accurate. Especially if you let people get behind. If someone owes you weeks of timesheets, and then gives them to you, that may check off that task, but it doesn't really accomplish anything. You know they just made up the numbers for the early weeks.

The other time-tracking peril is when management doesn't like what they hear. If you ever ask people to change what they claimed, you're doomed.
posted by smackfu at 9:17 AM on December 4, 2007

The single thing from the buzzword-compliant Agile silliness that seems worthwhile to me is the scrum. Every week have everyone meet for a short meeting and say very quickly what they just did and what they're doing next. It doesn't have to be exhaustive or even technical, just a scheduled hallway chat. You sit there and record short notes on each and wrap it up in an email to the higher ups. Two sentences per person I'd say.

The over-reliance on statistics and fine-grained reporting is probably something you could wean your higherups off of if they're getting short executive summaries of what's going on. That's all statistics end up being anyway.
posted by Skorgu at 9:27 AM on December 4, 2007

Seconding what majick and devilsbrigade said about SharePoint. Among the many efforts to drag me and my fellow "alpha males" here "into the 20th Century" (apparently a bleak wasteland of Powerpoint presentations and time entry), we tried SharePoint and almost universally found it counterproductive. We're now on Plumtree and it's not much better. You may be better off finding a tool that works more like the staff does than trying to get them to change their ways.
posted by JaredSeth at 10:57 AM on December 4, 2007

Do it in stages. Design a form for them to fill out once a week, that asks all of the questions you need answered, in the order that you want to put them on Sharepoint or whatever, and will take no more than a few moments to do. Call it "Status Report Form" or something. Email them a PDF and Word form version of this so they can type it up if they prefer (which will make your life easier too). Collect the form each week, give them a new one, and type the results in yourself.

If there's any resistance to this just make a time to go ask them the questions and fill it out yourself. This will be vastly easier than chasing them to make them submit their own results to a system they do not understand or care about. They see this, at best, as a monitoring exercise that distracts them from actual work.

Get them used to this, and gradually get them to switch to the desired system in stages. Start off taking the form to Bill's office and spending a few minutes talking to him to fill it out. A few weeks later, tell him you're busy and leave the form with him for him to fill out. By this time he knows what you want to know and hopefully at that stage the interview should be down to a few minutes. A few weeks later ask him if he can switch to filling out a word or PDF version of the form so you don't have to retype it. A few weeks later, ask him to fill it out on the system itself so you don't have to copy and paste it.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:18 PM on December 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

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