I’ll bet you are wondering what the title has to do with project management. Have you ever watched a child who has been told by their parents to clean their room? The look on their face is best described as shock and awe. Dejectedly, they stand at the door and look longingly at the mess as if mind over matter will make the room magically clean. The little gremlins that hide under the bed should be putting things away. Nothing has happened yet! It still looks the same! You can watch the wheels turn as they find a reason, any reason, to do something else. It is the “I have to go to the bathroom, I need a drink, I need to talk to mom, followed by I have to talk to dad, and then in desperation, can I call great grandma” syndrome. Anything to avoid crossing the threshold that would mean the cleaning activity has to begin.
I was working with a team last week and it occurred to me that they were a lot like my grandchildren when they are asked to clean their room. They stare at you as you request that they complete a task. You know and they know that they don’t know where to start. More importantly, they don’t want to ask you for help. If they asked for help, they would have to admit that there is something that they don’t know. Maybe, a little drama will help. Oh! the public humiliation of it all! They go for a biology break; they stop at the coffee pot; they detour back to their desk taking the long way hoping against all hope that someone will talk to them and delay their return; and when that fails, they start to tidy their workspace. It is called procrastination triggered by fear of the unknown. They have just found ‘their room that needs to be cleaned.’
Where to start with children? Give them one thing to do at a time. Instead of saying clean your room, you say “pick up your dirty clothes and put them in the hamper”. Then, you check progress until they are finished. Then you say “make your bed”. Then, you check on the progress. You can get children to do almost anything well if you tell what you want them to do – one step at a time. Reward them for a good job.
The golden nugget is ‘adults have the same behaviour patterns because we were once children. Once we learn something, change can be a scary thing. When working with team members,
- give them one thing to do at a time,
- get them to make a list,
- get them to estimate how much time it will take,
- help them schedule it in to their workload,
- check in regularly, provide counsel when needed,
- and congratulate them for a job well done”.
Many team members become overwhelmed at the amount of work required to complete a single task and the balancing act that is required to fit one more thing into their daily routine. The average person working on a project has about 30% of their time available for project work. If you look at their workload, they are over-allocated by about 300% and don’t know where to start.
As a project manager, it is our job to make sure our team members will give us the good news and the bad news. I prefer the bad news first, but whatever works for you. If you have team members that are spinning their wheels, chunk it into bite size pieces.
Just like the children with the messy room, they need a starting point, basic workflow and the courage to take the first step. Isn’t amazing what we could have learned just cleaning our room?