Project Status & Cycles

Previous: Hiring & Firing Teams

When planning, take advantage of the team’s natural strengths.

  • Most managers fail by focusing on improving weaknesses directly, but people individually tend to fix character defects by using their strengths.
  • If the workers are fast, but the work requires more patience, intentionally set more time aside for the tasks and mandate they slow down if needed.
  • Find ways to motivate slower workers by giving incentives they want (which is usually more pay) or spurring more competition with other workers.

Progress-Tracking Systems

There are many progress-tracking systems that can help evaluate where a team is and where it’s likely going.

  • Each one is capturing certainty from a specific perspective.
  • Very often, a team will require at least 2-4 of the following models to gain any useful analysis on what to do next.

There are many ways to track whether the team is effective at what they do, but they tend to only be rough estimates that don’t consider complexities within the project.

  • Unless the tasks are repetitive (e.g., prefabricated houses, factory work), each action will have its own adaptations from the previous task.
  • People tend to learn as they go and work faster when they’re near completion, so the last 10% will often take as much time as the first 20%.
  • If there are technological implementations or required research, there will be no progress for a while, then it’ll finish very rapidly.
  • Some logistical factors are literally impossible to plan ahead for (e.g., natural disasters).

Determining Ideal Scenarios

Katzenbach and Smith Model:

  • It’s a pyramid/triangle representation, with each corner and edge representing a different value.
    • The corners represent the inputs/outputs:
      • Performance Results is at the top.
      • Collective Work Products is at the left.
      • Personal Growth is at the right.
    • Edges represent how they connected:
      • Commitment binds Collective Work Products and Personal Growth, which can include specific goals, a common approach, or a meaningful purpose.
      • Skills bind Collective Work Products and Performance Results, which can be technical, problem-solving, or interpersonal.
      • Accountability binds Personal Growth and Performance Results, which can be mutual, a few people, or individual.
  • While the model is great for observing the ideal scenario for the group, but doesn’t work well as a diagnostic tool.
  • The system is intuitive because it focuses on the necessary components for achieving outputs, and with plenty of specific information about each of the factors for it.
  • However, it emphasizes smaller-sized teams, even when it’s not always realistic.

LaFasto and Larson Model (aka Five Dynamics of Team Work and Collaboration):

  • It draws from 5 common elements that almost all effective teams possess:
    1. Members – need to be the right people
    2. Relationships – members need to work well with each other
    3. Problem-Solving – need to focus on work, openly communicate, and have a good attitude
    4. Leadership – needs the right leader
    5. Organizational Environment – the organization at large needs to give adequate support and resources
  • The model has been well-researched, and helps to distinguish between teams made of competent individuals and effective teams.
  • It also doesn’t give guidance on how leaders and teams can acquire any of the missing elements.

Robbins and Judge Model:

  • It indicates 4 key elements that contribute to a team’s productivity and unity:
    • Context – external factors in the organization that affect the team’s success
    • Composition – the skills, preferences, characteristics, and experiences of each member
    • Work Design – the range of tasks each member receives and how they perform it
    • Process – how the team plans and achieves goals, as well as shared values or mission statement
  • It indicates that a manager has 4 main functions to perform:
  • While it captures each member’s specific traits, it also runs the risk of overlooking how people achieve unity together.

Determining Present Status

Drexler-Sibbet Model:

  • It proposes 4 key stages to build a team, then 3 stages that encourage the team to self-improve:
    1. Orientation – the team asks why their responsibilities and efficiency matter
    2. Building Trust – members learn more about each other, such as their respective skills and experiences
    3. Goal Clarification – team determines and specifies its purposes
    4. Commitment – team determines how it’ll achieve its goals, often with a timeline and resource assessment
    5. Implementation – team determines additional necessary details to complete tasks and achieve goals
    6. High Performance – team begins improving their shared tasks and can work more autonomously
    7. Renewal – members and leaders self-reflect to see what they did well and what they could improve on in the future
  • While it’s very effective at seeing what can be improved, it doesn’t easily capture how issues arise and how to resolve them.

T7 Model:

  • It identifies 7 internal and external factors that constitute a team’s effectiveness:
    • Internal factors
      • Thrust – the team’s purpose
      • Trust – team members’ mutual confidence and respect
      • Talent – qualified members with skills and experience
      • Task Skills – members’ ability to complete specific processes efficiently
      • Teamwork/Teaming – members’ individual skill at working within a team environment
    • External factors
      • Team-Leader Fit – how well the leader works well with the team
      • Team Support – how well the organization itself can support the team
  • It gives a broad overview of the team’s effectiveness, but doesn’t work well at helping improve any of the factors.
    • In particular, it’s not very effective at pinpointing anything useful for external factors.

Tuckman’s FSNP/FSNPA Model:

  • It theorizes that highly effective teams move through a story of 4-5 stages:
    1. Forming
      • Everyone depends highly on the leaders for guidance.
      • Roles and responsibilities aren’t very clear.
      • Members test other members’ and leadership’s tolerance.
      • Not much focus on processes.
      • The leadership will need to give very clear instructions on the team’s purpose, goals, and outside relationships.
    2. Storming
      • Clear disagreements about group decisions.
      • While some purpose is clear, other things are still uncertain.
      • Cliques and factions form over values.
      • The leader will have to convince the members to align their goals with the group’s.
    3. Norming
      • The team will generally find agreements on what to do and how to do it.
      • Roles and responsibilities are clear and broadly accepted.
      • The members are committed to the group, and may even engage in extra-group activities like social events together.
      • The leader is generally respected at this stage.
    4. Performing
      • The team is now aware of the domain outside themselves.
      • Members have an independently-maintained shared vision that no longer needs the leaders’ involvement.
      • Conflicts exist, but are resolved positively within the team without needing much management intervention.
      • The leadership is responsible to delegate more tasks and projects to continue motivating the members.
    5. Adjourning/Adapting
      • When any significant members leave or enter the group, it begins the cycle again.
      • At the end of the project, the members part ways.
      • Some members will feel a sense of loss or insecurity over the end of the experience working together.
      • The leadership isn’t responsible for members at this point, but the most humane thing they can do is direct members to other projects or efforts.
  • The model works well to know how and how much the leadership should be involved.
  • However, it only works for new teams, and doesn’t give much context for long-term teams who constantly work together.
    • Further, it doesn’t give any context for teams who seem to be stuck at a certain stage without moving forward (e.g., Norming but not Performing).

Diagnosing Issues

GRPI Model:

  • It has 4 groups stacked into a pyramid-shaped hierarchy:
    1. Goals are clearly defined and achievable objectives at the top of the pyramid.
    2. Roles are distinct duties and responsibilities that managers must track.
    3. Procedures are well-defined ways to work, communicate and make decisions.
    4. Interpersonal Relationships are the shared commitments members have made to communication, trust, and respect.
  • Design/planning/development goes down the pyramid, from goals to roles to processes to interpersonal relationships.
  • Diagnoses of issues go up the pyramid, from interpersonal relationships to processes to roles to goals.
  • It requires team to observe their issues from many perspectives instead of making assumptions about how things are failing.
  • However, the system tends to oversimplify the natural complexity of interpersonal relationships within the group.

Hackman’s Five Factor Model:

  • It indicates 5 factors that can improve a team’s functionality:
    • Team Status – clearly defined membership, roles, and communication
    • Compelling Direction – goals and incentives drive the members through clear incentives
    • Enabling Structure – team processes and workflows that encourages teamwork and communication
    • Support – the organization at large gives access to resources and information the team needs
    • Expert Coaching – influential leaders guide the team
  • While it looks at all aspects of the team, it doesn’t consider how people can be motivated by different things.
  • There is also a Salas, Dickinson, Converse, and Tannenbaum Model that adds to Hackman’s Model:
    • Company Context – the organization at large gives very specific time-sensitive information to the team
    • Team Design – the specific types of people and the specific roles they have
    • Team Synergy – the shared attitude about the team’s goals
    • Effective Processes – proven skills, knowledge, and strategies for performing tasks
    • Resources – how available an organization at large supports the team
    • Team Culture – the interpersonal dynamic, attitude toward the organization, and commitment to the project

Lencioni Model:

  • It focuses on how things can fail instead of succeed:
    1. Absence of Trust – members don’t feel they can be comfortable, honest, and vulnerable with each other.
    2. Fear of Conflict – members are afraid to disrupt the situation, so they stay quiet to maintain harmony.
    3. Lack of Commitment – members aren’t devoted to the team’s goal, so they won’t work together.
    4. Avoiding Accountability – members don’t recognize, respect, or appreciate their role in the team.
    5. Inattention to Results – members don’t pay attention to the larger reason why they’re working together.
  • While this model hasn’t been proven scientifically, it helps in observing intuitive social failures across groups.
  • While it’s great at diagnosing dysfunctional patterns, it doesn’t help much to actually fix the problems.

Making Schedules

People almost never work as much as they say they do.

  • The hourly pay structure incentivizes being physically present at a location, but not necessarily busy.
  • Most people figure out very quickly that appearing busy can get them out of more work.
  • They will not respond well if you dump more work on them without a worthwhile reward.
    • If you want them to work more, create better incentives.
    • If someone does the work of 2 or 3 people, they deserve to be paid double what they currently make.

For most industries, you’ll get more work out of them relative to their hourly rate if you give them a smaller 4-day work week.

  • Four-day weeks are a good idea when the project is long-term (e.g., software developers, actuaries), but not for short-term tasks that require a person’s physical presence (e.g., retail, construction).
  • Do not use a four-day week for tasks that only need a human being physically present (e.g., security guard).

Checking Status

If you have the right team, you can simply tell people what to do and expect them to produce results.

However, different parties may still need to know the current or near-future status of a project:

  • Investors or donors may need to know if the project will meet deadlines.
  • Customers or recipients may need to know of any delays or potential risks.
  • You will often need to notify suppliers for additional resources ahead of when the workers will need it.
  • If you have multiple teams, they’ll need to be notified on deadlines and when they’ll need to act.

Most managers over-track their workers for a few simple reasons:

  • They feel out of control and don’t trust their workers.
  • They believe managers ought to track their workers, or they’re simply imitating what they experienced as a worker.
  • They’re trying to predict the future based on the workers’ results.

You should very clearly understand why you’re tracking their work.

  • Beyond a routine status update, more tracking creates worse results.
    • Every minute you’re asking for status updates is a minute they (and you) aren’t working on something else.
    • Tracking devices (e.g., monitoring internet traffic, GPS trackers) can be time-consuming for you.
  • You often may only need to track their work for a short window of time.
    • If they’re under-performing, you may need to put them on watch, with clear indicators of when to not watch them anymore.
    • High-risk situations and crucial tasks need close monitoring, but only when they’re high-risk or crucial.
  • Any tracking that goes beyond standard social expectations for the industry can foster a toxic work environment the workers will want to leave.

Unless you’re planning to relocate them or redistribute resources, never directly track members to maximize their efficiency or give rewards.

  • They’ll only become more efficient is if you improve their motivation to perform.
    • When you closely monitor someone, you’ll have to constantly monitor that person because they’re only acting from fear of losing their job or role.
    • Every moment you’re monitoring a lagging worker, you’re not working on something else.
  • Goodhart’s Law will apply to any key metrics, and the smartest workers will have a perverse incentive to exploit the system.
    • Sales goals inspire members to game the system to maximize sales, even when people will demand a refund later.
    • Budget goals will mean members will hold off on purchases until predetermined “losing” periods.
    • Measuring time on tasks will encourage rapid and ineffective solutions or poor-quality service.
    • Measuring customer satisfaction will motivate inefficient people-pleasing.
  • There is an answer to Goodhart’s Law:
    1. Cut out incentives entirely.
    2. Pay all the roles well.
    3. Hire correctly.
    4. Tell them to work to the best of their ability.
    5. Use at least 2-3 metrics, with at least one of them hidden from the members.
  • Unless the system is in good faith (i.e., only for incentives), workers will always find creative ways around any tracking system you use:
    • If the tracking drives incentives and punishments, they’ll find ways to hack the system.
    • If the tracking only drives punishments, they’ll find ways to shut it off or spoof it.
    • If tracking only defines rewards, they’ll probably work harder, but some of them will try to exploit the system.

While it will vary by industry and type of work, status updates should generally be once a week.

  • Unless you intend to give immediate and public feedback, avoid weekly status update meetings with everyone present.
  • If you don’t trust them, or they’re particularly high-maintenance, you may need to check on them once a day.

When you must be constantly present, work alongside them.

  • Besides constantly observing them, working alongside them will set an example and typically boosts their morale.
  • If you’re not as qualified as some of the workers, have the humility to accept that your specialization in management makes you worse at the actual tasks than them.

While an open-office environment is easy to track workers, it has repeatedly been proven to cause more stress, conflicts, and employee turnover.

  • The extra invasion of privacy generally forces people to retreat into their mobile phones or headphones.
  • While they’re convenient for managers (since they can look over everyone’s shoulder at once), they stifle everyone’s ability to focus on a task without distractions.

Quality Control

Take routine samples of everyone’s work.

  • If you can, try to sample their work as randomly as possible, and without them knowing.

Examine the quality of their work by testing it against an ideal.

Redistributing Load

Whenever you see someone taking on more responsibilities than everyone else, try to redistribute the workload.

  • Give the harder-working person higher-intensity work.
  • Give incentives for their extra work relative to other people.
  • However, be careful with publicly sharing pay bonus incentives if everyone else in the group didn’t have access to the same bonus for the same efforts.

If you trust anyone, feel free to give them more responsibilities.

  • Politely ask “can you help me with something?”, then give them silence for them to respond.
  • If you find them particularly capable and they like the work, you should be informally training them to do your job someday.

When you have idle workers, you have several options:

  1. Prevent all idleness by giving them something to do (e.g., restocking, cleaning).
    • It makes more financial sense, but comes with the risk of dissatisfaction or burnout.
    • Over time, it’ll foster a culture of hard-working and potentially workaholic people.
    • If you prefer it, provoke the workers to leave the worksite so the boundaries are clearly defined (i.e., it’s a work site, so enjoy the rest of life elsewhere).
  2. Re-balance the idle workers to be prepared for future spikes in workload (e.g., stand at attention).
    • It makes more social sense, but isn’t the most efficient financial approach.
    • It’s the best all-around solution for morale if the incoming workload vacillates.
    • If you prefer it, explain why the extra work is necessary.
  3. Do nothing at all and give the workers complete freedom to relax.
    • It requires no work, but will allow workers to exploit the system to get out of work.
    • While this is the best solution for worker morale, it can also instill a culture of complacency.
    • If you prefer it, expect them to respond slowly to an increased workload.

Don’t give confrontational or lazy workers critical tasks.

  • By giving them important tasks, you’re indirectly influencing the group’s culture toward becoming more confrontational or lazy.
  • Their trouble performing or working with a team will almost ensure they’ll fail.
    • The only time you’d want them to fail is because you need a good reason to fire them and the project’s failure is worth the sacrifice.

Only lie to a slacker/jerk about the importance of their task (to make them feel important and maintain temporary harmony with the group) under a few conditions:

  1. Nobody else on the group should like that person.
  2. Tell the honest truth to the rest of the team (and your superiors).
  3. Make sure anyone you tell knows to not tell the slacker/jerk.
  4. You have the intention of getting rid of them soon.

Thinking Ahead

Beyond organizing people, most managerial tasks involve 2 other things:

  1. Thinking ahead to future logistical needs.
  2. Performing other second-degree tasks ahead of time to prevent any delays or interruptions to the work or projects.

Get equipment and supplies before the workers need it:

  • Not having enough supplies will create shortages and incur extra rush delivery costs out of urgency.
  • Even seemingly minor items like pens or paper can bring an organization to a grinding halt at the wrong time.

Always take their suggestions for supplies.

  • If the cost for any particular supply is less than a day’s labor for one worker, it’s always worth the investment.
  • While you may need controls for theft, any bureaucracy will foster a complex culture of distrust.

Never cut costs on tools they regularly use.

  • Cheap tools make the work twice as long and three times more frustrating.
  • While free software may get the tasks you need done, it sometimes comes at the cost of convenience.
    • If you prefer free software, hire a sufficiently qualified tech industry specialist who can also train the workers.

As much as possible, give as few logins as you can for their computer software.

  • Paying to add a few features to existing software can remove the need for multiple programs.
  • It sometimes may cost more, but the extra convenience will typically makes them more productive and save money long-term.

Let them choose their computer upgrades.

  • Feel free to ask them, but only upgrade if they actually want it.
  • Technology upgrades always cost money, but they may not be worth it unless they intend to use it.

Protect the organization’s assets.

Clearly demarcate roles to prevent any one person (including yourself) to have full control.

  • While you may like being in control, every bit of control you have also exposes you to at least some liability.
  • While you should have complete override control, all your responsibilities should be delegable to others.

Finalizing Projects

Assign people to the project’s continuity plan after it’s finished.

  • Do not move everyone to a new project as soon as they’re finished with their specialization.
    • There may be wrap-up work, or they may want to stay to finalize a few more details.
  • Instead, keep around anyone who would prefer to maintain the project:
    • People who want to maintain projects clearly believe in them, and they’ll do a better job than a highly skilled person who doesn’t care.
    • Maintenance is typically easier than creating, so you won’t need the best workers for it, and the creators are the most familiar with the project.
  • Anticipate anyone assigned to maintaining that project to drop a little in productivity on future projects (e.g., 5% less).
    • If you need more of their effort toward a new project, consider other older projects you can close down.
    • If multiple past projects may interfere with future projects, group them all together as a “project cleanup” project that will streamline, simplify, or retire them.

Next: Communication