Saturday, February 16, 2013

How to Deal with the Underperforming Project Team Member

Dealing with a project team member who is not performing to his or her duties on the project team capability is a task that most Project Managers (PMs) don’t want to deal with. This person can be poison to the overall project and its outcome for multiple reasons: they can bring the morale of the team down, they can sabotage the otherwise good work of other team members, they can disrupt your management of the project, and worst of all they take the air of the project’s progress.

Now we can agree that there are times when a team member may underperform because of reasons that are out of his or her control. The PM must be careful not to judge a member as an underperformer if that is the case and to move quickly to remedy the situation. This is done with transparency, meaning with the member’s knowledge that he/she may have to leave the team to help remedy the situation, but would have no impact on the member’s credibility or career.
However, we know that there are individuals who underperform on projects as well as at their regular job. So, what are the tell-tale signs of an underperforming team member and what should a PM do to remediate the situation?
Tell-tale Signs of an Underperforming team Member
There are a number of signs of an underperforming team member, but here are some of the more usual examples:
·         Consistently does not attend meetings, or is always late to meetings

·         Does not meet targets and does not care about the impact to the project

·         Disrupts other team members when he/she does not meet targets

·         Does not understand deliverables and does not communicate this

·         Does not understand his/her role on the team
What Can a PM Do?
When a PM realizes that a member of the project team is an underperformer, the first step is to confront the member as soon as possible. Similar to working with a direct employee, the PM must take time to meet with the underperforming team member and communicate the impact of his or her performance on the other team members and the project as a whole. If there is a lack of understanding on the part of the team member, the PM has the responsibility and the authority to educate the member.
 After that meeting, the PM must track the progress of that team member to ensure that all issues have been resolved. If the underperforming team member continues to underperform, the PM must take the next step and meet with the member and his or her direct manager. In this meeting, the PM must bring documentation of the impact on the project and the other team members to the managers’ attention. This is a meeting the PM should request on record if the manager is aware of the situation, and if the manager has that report on other projects the PM is not aware of. If the manager has the member on more projects that was originally reported to the PM, then the PM must request that either the member be taken off the other projects or that a new member be allocated to the PM’s project.
If the manager does not make a decision in this case, the PM has no other option than to go to the sponsor, and possibly the Program Management Committee, and request removal of the underperforming team member.
If the manager does take the member off the other projects, then the PM must work with the member to ensure that the member now meets the required tasks and re-engages the project team. This may be difficult if the other team members do not want to have this member on the team. It is up to the PM to ensure that the other team members work with the member in question so as to move the project forward.
If the manager allocates a new member to the PM’s team, the PM must bring the new member up to speed. An additional meeting with the project team to introduce the new member and to allocate a “buddy” to the new member is the best solution.
Team Morale
During the process of dealing with the underperforming team member, it is crucial that the PM maintains the morale of the other team members. The PM must manage the team to meet their objectives and tasks to keep the project moving as best as possible. In all of this, the PM must keep the sponsor and the Program Management Committee informed to ensure there are no surprises. This is not easily done and will be an additional burden for the PM. The PM must keep the team focused on the project goals and may need the help of the sponsor and the Program Management Committee in doing so.
I am open to discussion at any time on these blogs or anything else related to project management you would like to explore. If you would like to comment about this blog, please do so by posting on this blog or by responding in an email at Benny A. Recine.You may inspire a blog article. I look forward to your comments.