Monday, September 05, 2011

The follow up nemesis

The meeting finished with agreement on clear responsibilities, timelines and the next scheduled meeting date four weeks away. The minutes circulated to the team the next day captured this very well. Like all projects, this one was thus far on track though the next three months were critical. The requirement gathering had gone well and the first cut was delivered on time; everyone seemed geared to take on the challenge and another successful project delivered.

Over the next few weeks, some updates were received on the portal, a couple of emails and then none. I began to wonder getting anxious if everything was okay with the project. So a reminder was sent to the group asking for updates; received one response, silence from others. With just one week remaining for the next meeting, and progress report depicting inconsistent updates, acidity levels started rising on the real progress.

So I started calling folks and walking across to their workstations to figure out what gives ? Some titbits:

“Yes, I have completed the tasks, but was too busy to provide an update”

“You should have the status by end of the day”

“Why are you getting on my back ? By the time we get to the meeting, we will be on track”

“Sorry, something urgent came up, so am a bit behind schedule”

All this made me wonder, here we are in the midst of an important project that has Board visibility, will provide a significant benefit, everyone vied to be on the project due to the positive impact, but they do not find time to provide an update. What causes such behaviour ? Why do some people find it difficult to provide open and clear communication on agreed milestones or request for information ? Why is follow up necessary ?

With multiple priorities and fires that need to be doused, short-term dementia is pervasive. Rarely the lack of response is out of disrespect, disregard or plain indifference. Follow-up is essential to bring the issue at hand to attention, to reinforce the signal of ownership and shared responsibility. It also helps in bringing back focus on what matters.

Having said this, there could be instances of no response where connect is not adequately strong or in some cases of missing shared accountability. Another factor that contributes to silence is fear of conflict; this occurs when the issue and people are inseparable. Culturally many are unable to provide bad news and thus prefer not to respond. In all these cases, the leader has to intervene and create the way forward.

IT organizations suffer the most when following up with diverse groups – internal and external – when working on cross functional projects or when solving problems that require different technologies to work together. It is important for IT leaders to inculcate missionary discipline within the team to ensure that initiatives in which IT participates, there is clear communication to all stakeholders.

Someone summed it up well “If I did not have to follow-up, I would save half my day”.

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