Management Staff, Manage Themselves
January 24, 2008 10:55 AM   Subscribe

Help me manage other peoples projects....

I manage six staff members that have a number of large projects and lot's of little ones. On average they have 20 items on their plate. I meet with them individually on Monday morning and we discuss goals/objectives to be accomplished throughout the week. Meeting usually is 15-20 minutes in length. They are able to work on projects and do whatever as long as their objectives are reached. No management from me unless questions arise or I feel it is needed. I try not to micro manage but it's getting hard not too, objectives are not being met without merit. There is no accountability if projects pass deadlines. My documentation has been poor and so I created the following form: Weekly Progress Report

I've tried it and it works but takes a very long time to update. I put the responsibility on staff to fill out the forms but they don't do it in a timely manner. Is there something better I could use? Any recommendations on simple task/object/project management without all the hoopla? Other feedback appreciated.

PS. We work for a non-profit, underpaid, Local Government Agency.

posted by bleucube to Work & Money (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You could use a lightweight, web-based issue tracking system. These are typically used for customer service interactions, but you can also use them inside a company to track projects large and small. You can use an issue tracker to ...

- request work
- prioritize
- track progress
- keep project-related communication in a single place

The app will maintain an ongoing list of open issues for each person, and all you have to do is scan your team members' lists to get a quick progress report. It's way, way simpler and more functional than handling tons of forms -- which are a burden to fill out, review, file, etc.

There are lots of issue trackers out there -- Wikipedia has a comprehensive comparison of issue trackers with dozens of options. If you want to get a quick idea of whether an issue tracker would work for you, I'd say look at Mojo Helpdesk, which is cheap ($12/mo for 6 users), simple, and has a free version so you can try it out.
posted by ourobouros at 11:49 AM on January 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm not a manager, but here is the way of documenting these kinds of things that works best:

[Project Name] - [Project Goal] - [Project Status]

Project Goal should be something quantitative like "Create Weekly Report" or "Finish Project By Q4 2008". This is just to make sure everyone agrees on what the overall expectation is.

Project Status should be something like Ahead Of Plan/On Plan/Behind Plan, or something like Green/Yellow/Red. Personally I like green, yellow, red because it's vague enough to fit everything but is still useful. Green means everything is going according to plan or already done, yellow means there are some snags but everything should still work out, and red means something is wrong that needs to be addressed right away. The status should be updated every week, even if the actual project is not completed at the end of the week.

If you're not micromanaging, you shouldn't really care about a lot of the things in your template, such as the hours spent on each project. Really, the only things that you should be focusing on are what's going wrong, so that you can make sure that an issues are resolved. That's why the green/yellow/red system works so well, because you can ignore the green tasks and focus on the few that are yellow or red.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:55 AM on January 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

Kind of agree with what's said above, and this is my job also.

I ensure that in beginning a project that each lead feels they have the time and resources they need to get the job done. I get them to tell me. They need to feel ownership from the start. I also request a high level schedule. They can track the low level details, but I like to know about major milestones.

I get each team to present me with a report (or an email) with a few dot points each week that covers:
- Items achieved this week
- Items planned by not accomplished
- Items planned for next week

It makes it easy for me to pull out last week's report and ensure that items dont mysteriously disappear. I also review their high level schedule and ask for a colour rating (red/amber/green) against the major milestones (i.e. are we on track). Ill only ask for more details if I havent heard anything related to a milestone on the 'item achieved' list and its getting close.

I always close by asking if there are any new issues, risk or concerns and if I can do anything to help them meet their objectives.

In accountability I've found that them understanding the bigger picture helps, and knowing that I might have to report bad news up the chain of command is also a big card to play, as I make them a visible part of the management team from the start.

The final point is that everyone likes to be managed differently. Some folks can only have a detailed conversation while some would prefer to meet milestones and be left alone. Certainly there is no one size fits all.

And, good luck!
posted by kaydo at 4:36 PM on January 24, 2008

Oh and in addition, I get the project managers in a room together to report in a single meeting. There's a known time then and an expected preparation in advance. I find that those that tend to fall behind on delivery quickly get it together when they see others doing it.
posted by kaydo at 4:38 PM on January 24, 2008

Is this an established team with a good performance record that's only recently started tanking? An established team given new performance criteria? Or a new team you're trying to mesh together?

If the objectives aren't being met, you already have a reason to talk to the underperformers. They already know they're underperforming, so make the meeting about what can be done to help them. You might be assuming its a lack of organisation/communication/visability when it's something entirely different. It could be anything from needing help organising & prioritising tasks to burnout to layoffs in another section depressing performance in yours. Once, I had a problem with a team and found that it was tied to one person who, though insanely talented, whined about every little perceived or actual slight received on or over company property to everyone sitting next to him. His coworkers were being affected by the constant little cloud of gloom & "it doesn't matter anyway" commentary. Moved his workstation and voila, performance & general atmosphere improved.

Some of these things you can do something about directly. Some of them you can't. Either way, if you try to bolt a solution on top of a problem when you're only looking at it from one side, it won't help.
posted by Grrlscout at 2:17 AM on January 25, 2008

Thank you all for the comments / suggestions.

I've overlooked our helpdesk tracking software which has the ability to perform multiple queues. I will establish simple project tickets with objectives that they can update. I will add escalation and tracking with that, which will make life easier.

The biggest problem with the team is we are on the cusp of a huge migration, everyone's ready to work but I'm working through the red tape. So in the meantime they are not to interested in keep up the old system and performing projects that need to be done now, but will be changed shortly.

Thanks again! This should help!
posted by bleucube at 4:59 AM on January 25, 2008

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