How many of you trust the information you receive from your employees? I was speaking this weekend in Calgary, Canada when the issue of employee trust came up. Many managers seem to have an inherent distrust of the information they receive from their employees. Trust issues came up in three distinct areas.
- Work estimates
- Task progress updates
Every Friday afternoon, your company helps host one of the largest fiction writing conventions in the world, as people fill out their timesheets. Of course, the data is flawed. Unless you are tracking your time as you do a task, you are hard pressed to remember with any accuracy, how much time you spent on a task. Compounding this issue is the instructions we provide to employees regarding time tracking.
I worked in one organization where they wanted you to log forty hours per week. No more or no less. To me, this made no sense as work levels vary based on a number of factors. You may have a 55-hour week, followed by a 36-hour week. Variance is normal. However, they were feeding the data back to finance for chargebacks and finance had to bill 40 hours. Instead of dealing with the data issue in finance, they instead had thousands of employees fill out a fictional timesheet that had little value for any other use.
Time tracking, when done accurately, provides a treasure trove of information as to what it takes to do specific tasks. This data can then be used to select and monitor the optimization of specific processes. If employees understood that the time tracking data was being used to make their jobs easier, they might be more likely to enter accurate data in a timely manner. Otherwise, time tracking is simply an organizational tax with no benefit for the tracked individual.
Time tracking should also be better defined as to what is desired. Some input duration, others input effort. Publishing specific standards and samples beyond “make it 40” will yield better data.
Show of hands, how many feel their employees are padding estimates? If you have your hand up, does your organization have estimation standards or checklists? This could be one source of the behavior.
During my time as a project manager, I’ve found estimation to be especially problematic when there was no set definition of what data was required to create an estimate. Ask three people to estimate a task with no guidance and you would get three radically different answers. One would add in overhead, one would estimate duration, one would estimate work effort.
Creating an estimation checklist goes a long way to ensure you are getting a complete estimate with known components. The padding is generally a risk reaction so this might provide a way to segue this input into the project risk analysis, as discussed here.
Another issue with estimation is that it is hard to do by yourself. I’ve used estimation pairs before, quite successfully, where two people are asked to work together to create the estimate. This may require the pairing of a project team member with a support team member to get a holistic view of the work. It also helps to have a sounding board for the thinking that goes into your estimates.
Task progress updates
The flip side of work estimate distrust is doubt surrounding the progress made by team members on their tasks. In my thinking, if you ask a person for a work estimate, the task update is how you hold them accountable to this estimate. Yet, time and time again, I encounter situations where progress updates are relegated to the project manager for fear of “screwing up the timeline.” I hear echoes of Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men,” uttering “You can’t handle the truth!” when I see this.
Progress variance happens and it’s our job in project management to decide how the organization responds to variance. Variance is not something to be hidden but rather discussed and addressed. It is a powerful tool for making the company more effective.
To ensure quality updates, everyone should use the same expectations to describe progress. Distrust arises when the information received from the team does not match poorly defined expectations from management. For example, if the original estimate was duration based in days and the team is providing progress in effort hours, comparing the two will be nonsensical. Without a common language and understanding, the team will have no sense of how the data is to be used or its importance.
Helping your employees earn trust rather than continuing to doubt their information is a worthy first step toward enabling an effective enterprise.
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