October 31, 2013

Nagging, Tracking, Monitoring and Control

Next week I am giving a session on Managing Multiple Projects. Tracking is a major part, so I have been researching this topic. As well, as these things go, I have had a few conversations with project managers on the topic of “nagging” (ahem... “tracking”).

Do project managers like to nag? Of course not. Do they? Very often.

The Harvard Business School and Northwestern University did a study on “managerial nagging”. They tracked project managers in 6 companies across 3 industries. What they found:

The researchers shadowed these managers at meetings, followed them around the office as they dropped in on subordinates, and sat for hours at their desks looking over their shoulders, recording their phone calls and e-mails. (Hey, talk about nagging!) They ultimately collected 256 hours’ worth of observations.

Their findings, published recently in the journal Organization Science, show that in a typical 4½-hour stretch, 14% of all communication was redundant. In other words, managers spent a fair chunk of time following up with employees to reiterate information they had already explained.

Frequency mattered more in convincing employees to get working, and managers who were deliberately repetitive from the start tended to move their projects along faster and received less resistance from their teams.

This all makes sense to me and agrees with the concept of weekly team meetings - of which I am a big fan - and daily contact, if possible, either through meetings or walk-abouts. After all, the project manager’s job is to manage. Helping the team get there is a huge part of that.

Of course, other project management practices, such as having team members define their work and provide estimates, creating a Communications Plan that identifies when, how and what to communicate with stakeholders (including team members), and creating a Roles and Responsibility matrix, also help with reducing the need to nag.

(Credit for some of this article goes directly to canadianbusiness.com/business-strategy/how-to-profit-from-strategic-nagging/. Go there for more information on the study.)