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Dealing with Performance Issues

The phrase "project manager” is a bit of a misnomer; while project managers do manage projects, they deliver them by managing a project team that does the work of the project. How successful they are at managing that team will go a long way to determining the success or failure of the project. Perhaps the most difficult (and certainly the most unpleasant) aspect of managing the high performance team is dealing with issues of poor performance. We’ve put together some tips to help you make this unpleasant experience as easy and productive as possible. These articles are not intended to be a comprehensive manual on managing project teams. They are meant to provide you with some insights gained through years of practical experience.

Before you implement any of the measures you read here, please check with your HR representative and educate yourself on your HR groups policies.

Identifying Performance Issues

You need to be very certain that your project is experiencing performance issues before you take any steps to correct them. Attempting to correct poor performance when you’re not actually experiencing it is unproductive at best and can be destructive to the moral of team.

Lets start with the performance of the project. Poor performance, that is missing deadlines, behind schedule, over budget or poor quality, may or may not be signs your project has performance issues. Performance issues are just one possible cause for these ailments, but if poor performance is contributing to poor project performance here are some of the signs you’ll see.

  • Excessive absenteeism – one or more of the team will be absent for 2 or more days per month. We’re talking about casual days off here, not a genuine long term illness or injury. Mondays and Fridays are particularly popular days to "phone in sick” as they extend the weekend. For tips and tricks dealing with absenteeism, click this link.
  • A team member consistently missing deadlines – this team member simply can’t complete their work on time. They assure you they can complete the work in the time allotted, commit to delivery, then disappoint you on the due date. For help on how to deal with this situation, click this link.
  • A team member consistently delivering poor quality – this team member has their name on the lions share of the trouble tickets issued by the QA group. They frequently claim to have fixed a bug and either haven’t, or have fixed it but caused 2 others. For help dealing with this problem, click this link.
  • A team member is always asking for help from the team – this team member will always be seen at their neighbors work station getting help with their work. They may also get the help delivered to their work station. For more information on the "needy programmer", and how to deal with this problem, click this link.
  • The team, or individuals on the team, complain about a team member who is interfering with their productivity – the team member they are complaining of is dragging performance down because they are always asking for help.
  • Conflicts on the team – one individual on the team always seems to be involved in a dispute with someone else on the team. For more information on resolving intra-team conflicts, click this link.
  • Conflicts between a team member and stakeholders external to the team – this team member always seems to be involved in a dispute with someone external to the team. These are frequently the same people that are involved in the intra-team conflicts. For more information on resolving conflicts between the team and external stakeholders or customers, click this link.

If your team is experiencing any of these symptoms, there is a good chance that poor team performance is contributing to poor project performance and it’s time for you to take action.