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Podcast 129: Track others’ work

This is podcast 129 and it’s about keeping track of the work of other people.

Recently I consulted with someone about making sure to do’s got done at work. But not his to do’s, his assistant’s. He’s a pretty organized guy. He gets things done and so do others in his office. He trusts his assistant. But every once in a while something slips through the cracks.

His question is: how do I prevent that from happening without micromanaging my assistant? Great question! And great that he’s aware that delegating work means not hovering or controlling. I’ve written before about how difficult delegation is for many people and how to overcome that.

He wondered if his employees were getting stuck and were afraid to ask him questions but he told me that he strives to be available to them, especially early on in a project, so they can ask questions as soon as they have them and not save them up until a week before the deadline.

That’s also a great strategy. Whenever you assign work to someone else, go over all the details, even if employees say they know how to do something. This pre-empts several issues. One, people are afraid to let on what they don’t know. I think that’s natural. They want to appear competent and trust worthy.

Two, some things may have changed recently so procedures have to be different. Sometimes communication about changes gets lost in the shuffle. Everyone gets so much daily email that they might overlook one that seems like a routine company communication.

Three, everyone makes assumptions, especially regarding things they are confident about!

This is the most dangerous of the three. Assumptions, like habits, can be great time savers. You speed through a lot of repetitive steps or skip over parts of a routine you know aren’t totally necessary. But then the law of unintended consequences kicks in and your path to complete your work has deviated enough that you’re not going to cross the finish line in time, or at all.

So good communication is key to get things started. This communications includes the scope and desired result of the project and should also address what problems might come up and what to do about them. That’s another great way to answer questions before they come up. Your employee might be great but not that experienced, so when Dave from accounting can’t give her the info she needs, she may not know who else to try, for example.

There are lots of project tracking apps these days, but not all businesses need that level of tracking. Also, they don’t work unless everyone involved in the project uses them and inputs all their information. All project are a series of tasks. They aren’t necessarily linear and sometimes they overlap, but they proceed toward a desired outcome.

One method for keeping track is to pick several landmarks along the way to the goal and then to check in with staff people about their progress. This works well for a project involving a group where having individual conversations doesn’t work. The project timeline can be outlined on a whiteboard, real or virtual, where everyone can see it and know how their work fits in with everyone else’s.

In the example case, he can ask his assistant to write regular reports on the project. Reports can be daily briefs or more in depth weekly reports, depending on the length and scope of the project. This is a good way for the employer to stay informed so he can supply more information and guidance if necessary. It also provides specific information he can evaluate without micromanaging. In the end of course, employees have to be trusted to do their jobs right.

You can use this idea in your personal life too. If you’re delegating to your kids or to a neighborhood committee member, the same issues apply. Be as clear as possible about what the project entails and what each person’s role in it is. Write or talk out a timeline so people can start to visualize how the project will go and anticipate problems that can be avoided. Go over details even if they seem obvious so everyone is on the same page. Try to expose assumptions that are incorrect. Check in with folks regularly to track progress.

What you can do right now: if you are involved in a project that is suffering from under or miscommunication, try a whiteboard outline or a reporting scheme to see where things can be improved.