3

Note: I am not a PM. I'm a technical manager who is temporarily overseeing a project until PM is spun up.

I have a pair of independent contractors - call them Mike and Vern - performing design and development work respectively. They are very good individual contributors: hard working, smart, hungry. What they lack is foresight and caution. Several times in the past year, we have been forced to go back to the well to ask for more money because of bugs, incomplete requirements, unguarded customer changes, etc... These guys are good performers, but they just don't self manage well.

Over the past four weeks, I've been requesting more regular updates and planning sessions. These planning sessions seem to go well, but when it comes to executing the plan everything slows down. Status never gets reported. Meetings get ducked. PTO gets taken. It falls apart. More than once, I've seen communications like "I can't take another minute of X" and "Waiting for permission slows everything down and is a real problem."

How can I get the reporting and predictability I need from my people to do medium-term and long-range planning when they just don't want to be managed - at least not by me?

  • "requesting more regular updates and planning sessions. Waiting for permission" these are not how you manage people or project. Incomplete requirements and requirements changes is primarily your responsibilty, not theirs. – Lie Ryan Sep 20 at 11:33
  • 100% my problem. I should have mentioned that I inherited this project behind a PM who, if there's any justice in this world, is on a ferry to a faraway country because he's f***ing useless. – MintyFreshFlow Sep 20 at 15:52
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Just to give a different perspective/possibility than David Espina's Answer...

What I'm reading happened is this:

  1. Problems occurred
  2. You assumed (without talking to the contractors?) that more planning, updates, and roadblocks would fix the problems.
  3. The contractors didn't agree with you.
  4. The contractors are doing everything they can to ignore the new workflow that they believe to be unnecessary/harmful.
  5. Result: everyone is frustrated.

Assuming my assumption in step 2 is correct, then I posit that then is when the problem first occurred. As such, you need to start over from step 2.

Talk to the contractors. Start by apologizing for not getting their feedback before. Then explain the original problems, and explain why you thought the suggestions you proposed would fix the problems. Then solicit their feedback/alternative ideas:

  1. If they give alternative suggestions, check if they're viable. If so, then great! You now have both buy-in and possibly better solutions. If not viable, continue the discussion.
  2. If they can't give viable suggestions, then explain that you have no choice but to enact your solutions, as the costs to the business of the original problems is greater than the cost of their concerns. Ideally, at this point, since you've taken the time to discuss with them first, you've established buy-in.

If, after getting their buy-in (either on your solutions or theirs), they still continue to fail to meet the requirements, or if they refuse to play ball in the discussion above, then continue to David Espina's Answer.

  • This is good advice. I need some time to digest it. Thank you. – MintyFreshFlow Sep 20 at 16:33
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You are not describing good performers. A good performer is not someone that knows how to just turn the wrench, it is all facets of work behavior an organization requires in order to produce the best output. This includes wrench turning, of course, but also includes team work, planning, reporting, the politics, communication, reliability, attendance, and so on.

They are exhibiting poor performance. You would not accept this level of performance if this was coming from a widget on a machine; you would observe the shoddy performance and then replace the widget. Humans are not widgets so it is not as easy removing the widget and replacing it with another from the shelf but the concept of remove and replace is exactly the same.

Sit them down and document exactly what work behaviors they need to exhibit, how often, how well, time frame, etc. Document it and make sure it is crystal clear. Since they are contractors, you might have to work with your procurement leader on the exact mechanics of this performance expectation meeting. If after the agreed amount of time both continue to fail to exhibit the desired behavior and performance, remove and replace. It is a project, not an operations; you simply do not have the time nor requirement to deal with employees growth potential as those in operations do. And since they're contractors, you have even less obligation to help them improve. In some circles with contractors, you can cut bait immediately and send them packing.

As the de facto leader, you have to make the hard decisions and do the unpopular things.

  • 2
    +1. If we except something to be done in a specific way and that's not being done, we ought to communicate clearly what we expect. If that doesn't happen and we haven't done anything about it, it's also our fault. – Tiago supports GoFundMonica Sep 20 at 11:27
  • Good advice. Let me digest it. Thank you. – MintyFreshFlow Sep 20 at 16:34

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