Thursday, May 29, 2008

Overtime as an implied order

Every month the Macadamian Leadership team meets for some D&D. No, it's not Dungeons and Dragons, rather it is discussion and debate. Our topics are wide ranging, but always focused on one of Macadamian's core values, constant improvement.

Some of the topics we have covered in the past include:

  • Project tracking;
  • Software Development Process;
  • Estimation Process;
  • Usefulness of patch-a-day, and code reviews.

Today's meeting was about what strategies and lessons have we learned that can bring a project from red back to green.

We discussed a lot of different strategies, ranging from team member changes (addition and removal), to adjusting the forecasted dates and communicating the new delivery dates to the customer.

One of the Project Leader’s suggested that it might be better to do overtime rather then add a team member to the project. The PL argued that a new team member would distract the team during the ramp up period, and it would be awhile before the new team member was productive. Of course these are all true.

There is just one problem with asking for/requesting overtime, it is really easy for a team member to perceive that as an order.

Asking for overtime can be perceived as an implied order as it is a superior asking a subordinate for something, even when you preface it with “You don’t have to…” or “Feel free to say no...” etc. Most people want to please their manager, and will do what is asked for/requested even if they don’t want to.

Other examples of what could be perceived as implied orders include the manager saying something like "There is more work left then time", or if the Project Leader starts working overtime on his own when the team knows they are late.

If you need to ask for your team to work extra hours these simple suggestions will help:

  • be sure that you meet with them in person
  • ask them for feedback, and thank them when they give it;
  • make sure that there is a compensation plan in place for those extra hours;
  • reassure them that if they don’t work any extra hours, there will be no negative consequences (and mean it);
  • don't expect an answer on the spot;
  • thank them regardless of their decision.

Of course, a healthy work environment where the employee is trusted, respected, empowered, and overtime is the exception rather then the rule will also help alleviate the perception of an implied order.

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