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Leveraging the Wisdom of Project Newcomers

| by Deborah Hartmann Preuss Follow 0 Followers on Aug 01, 2006. Estimated reading time: 2 minutes |
Sounds like Joe Wynne, writer on Gantthead.com, had a nasty nightmare recently:
News of the Future: Dr. Phil has completely covered all topics relating to interactions between couples.  Desperate show producers, bowing to pressure from the gantthead editorial staff, have added a new topic.  After some research, they have called upon you to expound upon your project management skills.

... you were on the Dr. Phil show, preparing to regale the audience with stories of your project management prowess, when it turned ugly.  You were actually on "Confront Your Manager Day."  A group of workers from your previous project had arranged this ambush.  Dr. Phil showed video evidence that you had missed signals given by professionally experienced project newcomers.  These signals were evidently supposed to trigger you to coach the workers in some fashion...
Experienced project newcomers know their job, but are new to your project, your company's process and your organization's culture.  They require targeted actions to be integrated quickly into the project.  If these individuals do not get an appropriate response, then their expertise and effectiveness, which you are paying for, will be throttled.

Ordinary enough problems, when pointed out by experienced people, may be more than just "getting used to how we do it" - they offer you fresh eyes on a process to which you may have become inured.  For example, experienced newcomers may mention they have problems with: following certain steps, finding critical information, working in the organizational culture, functioning effectively in the current project environment.  Managers can look for signals, verbal cues and body posture that indicate something is interfering with their successful completion of duties.  Even better, if you have specific questions prepared, you can help reveal these gaps early on in the project.  But questions must be open-ended to solicit valuable input.  Remaining open, a good listener, is critical to making the most of this feedback. 

Wynne suggests some useful questions to use, and also suggests ways to respond to those signals and quickly determine corresponding solutions. He also provides a proactive way to avoid most of these problems in the first place with his template, the Experienced Project Newcomer 30-day Checkup.  It may require adjustments for use with Agile processes, but it presents a good starting point.

Read Joe Wynn's  A Special Approach to Onboarding the Professionally Experienced Newcomer (And Thus Avoiding Dr. Phil) in three parts on the Gantthead project management site.

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