“Problem” Team Members

One of my office neighbors asked me about how I handle “problem” team members. His examples were:

  • the team member who doesn’t provide good estimates
  • the team member who doesn’t stop talking in meetings

In each case, and I argue, in most cases, there are no problem team members. I firmly believe that most people want to do their job well. However, people are often misunderstood, or they don’t understand what they’ve been asked to do.

As project managers, we must ensure that we don’t jump to conclusions. Just because we have a clear picture of what needs to be done, that doesn’t mean that anyone else shares that understanding. We must use the tools of project management, especially the Work Breakdown Structure, the Schedule, and the Risks List, to build that shared understanding.

Here’s my take on the answer to my friend’s specific questions. First, the person who has trouble estimating has a lot of company. Few people estimate well when they start out. That’s why I’m such an advocate for time tracking. Until a person builds up a history of how it long it takes to do certain tasks, it’s very hard to develop accurate estimates. I use Liquid Planner every day, and I take advantage of its timing feature to keep track of how well my effort estimates match my actuals. Second, when dealing with someone (like myself) who talks a lot in meetings, it’s important that the meeting facilitator explicitly asks the quieter members of the team to speak. There are kind and gentle ways of telling the extrovert that you’re grateful for her comments, but that you’d like to hear from others as well.

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