Texting Team Members and Supervising Sponsors
by Brian Irwin
I've been a project manager for over 35 years now and I've seen dramatic changes in the profession over that time. Needless to say, major change has been seen in technology and process improvement allowing me to perform my job more efficiently. However, especially over the past ten years, I've noticed a change in the project team members which has proven to be a major challenge to me personally in completing my projects on time, within budget, and with acceptable quality.
Let me give you an example to help illustrate what I'm talking about. I am currently leading a project to develop a software system which will provide a custom accounting interface which will tie into the company's inventory control system. The project team consists of several business analysts, programmers, and technical experts. Terry, one of my programmers who is a recent college graduate, does not arrive at the office until around 9:30–10:00 a.m. In meetings, he will send texts and answer email on his cell. As the icing on the cake, he recently asked to work remotely.
I've noticed this trend over the past several years. This hinders my ability to provide control over the project and stay in touch with what is happening on the project. Is this a symptom of the next generation of workers or is there something I can do as a project manager to make my life simpler?Sincerely,
Dear Feeling Out-of-Control,
I'm going to make a bold assumption from your statement, "I've been a project manager for over 35 years now…" that you're from the Baby Boom generation, those born between the years 1946 and 1964. What you are describing is much more common than you may think.
The past few years have provided a very unique situation. For the first time in our history, four generations find themselves colleagues in today's workplace. At one point I believed we were nearing the end of this era as you would typically only see three generations in the workplace—Baby Boomers (1946–1964), Generation X (1964–1984), and Generation Y (1984–present). However, the current economic situation is forcing more workers from the Baby Boom generation to put off retirement and more Matures (those born before 1946) to return to the workforce.
To begin to gain an understanding of each of these generations you need look no further than the situation in which each was raised. Doing so will provide insight into where each generation places value. Likewise, it will also provide insight into where each generation does not place value. In your case, Terry—being from Generation Y (my assumption as you stated Terry was a recent college graduate)—grew up in a time marked by corporate scandal, rapidly-changing technology, and instant gratification. These life lessons, among others, helped to shape how they identified with the world. Each generation's life events shaped how they would view and react to the world around them and Generation Y is no different.
Let's examine each of the items you brought up in your letter individually. Your first observation is that Terry does not arrive until around 9:30 or 10:00 a.m. This generation is about getting it done on their time—as long as it's by the deadline and regardless of the time of day. My first reaction would be to ask, what time does he leave? If there are meetings in which his presence is required (not requested—required), address this with him. If not, I would examine if Terry is getting tasks done on-time and with sufficient quality? If not, I would suggest having a discussion with Terry and his manager about the behavior. If the answer to both is that it's not impacting the project, then what's the problem? If it's impacting your project, by all means, raise the issues.
Secondly, you mentioned sending texts during meetings. This is up to your discretion. Personally, if it is a meeting and Terry is not required to participate in that portion of the meeting I'd contend you don't need to worry about it. However, if he's distracting others or is missing important information he needs to complete his job, bring it to his attention. In either case the decision is yours. I would recommend reconsidering his attendance at the meetings if he's not required. Also, it is your responsibility to set the ground rules prior to the meeting beginning. At that point you have a course of action should he begin texting.
Finally, you said that he's asked to work remotely. Have you probed to find out what's driving this request? Is there a personal reason? Seriously consider the request before dismissing it. His reasoning may not be related to not wanting to be in the office.
To answer your final question, this is not simply a symptom of this generation of workers. Each generation has had its own symptoms. And, yes, there is always hope from a project management perspective. As with anything in the world of projects and people, it's all in the approach.
I'm having a problem with my project team. At the inception of the project, my sponsor told me she wanted to be copied on all team communication because she wanted to be viewed as part of the team and, because of the priority of the project, wanted to make herself available to quickly resolve issues which were standing in the way of project completion. However, fulfilling my sponsor's request has resulted in some very upset team members. What is occurring is that my sponsor is scolding team members when I email them about issues and copy her on the communication. Also, they've become very upset by the fact that I copy her on the communication and view it as me asking her for assistance. How should I handle this going forward?Sincerely,
Dear Feeling Helpless,
You have a situation that I do not hear of very often, a hyper-involved project sponsor. My suggestion would be to have a frank discussion with your sponsor and let her know what's happening with your team as a result of her actions. While it's commendable that your sponsor wants to be involved and be viewed as a team member it's neither advisable nor productive to have your sponsor involved in all project issues. In your discussion with her explain that you are very impressed with her level of commitment to the project.
Since you're talking to an executive-level team member do not directly challenge. Rather, when you are explaining your point start the conversation with, "I sincerely appreciate your personal interest in keeping the project moving forward, but have you considered the impact your actions may be having on the team? Please let me explain ..."
Continue with your explanation from that point. If possible, give specific examples to support your situation. I'd be very surprised if your sponsor does not take a different tack given the priority of your project as you communicated it.
Got a question of sticky project politics you'd like Brian to address? Pass them on. They may be included in a future column.