Take the 2-minute tour ×
The Workplace Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for members of the workforce navigating the professional setting. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I recently changed jobs and was assigned to a project at the new job that is in serious need of some stabilization and cohesion. The project has been in the works for 3 years and involves many different interdependent pieces which are being handled by different departments.

To come up to speed and do my part of the project, I've had to get information from each of the different departments and read some documentation. During this process, I've found that, due to a lack of effective communication, each department has a different idea of where the project is going and what needs to be done. Furthermore, the documentation is outdated and contains a great deal of false or misleading information.

Each time I bring up an example of conflicting documentation or information that I'm getting, the usual response I get is "Yeah, so-and-so has been out of the loop." or "I thought we decided not to do that. Maybe I'm wrong." or "That's old information. Ignore that piece of documentation". So, the team knows that there is a communication problem and that the documentation is bad, yet everyone is moving forward with their piece of the project as if all is well.

The project doesn't have an official Project Manager per se, but one of my superiors is sort of overseeing the whole thing, and he is very busy with other projects too. What I'd like to do is get everyone together in one room for a meeting and clarify all of the points of miscommunication that I've discovered, and make a plan going forward that we all can agree on. I have experience with this sort of thing and I have several good ideas that could really help the project. However, I feel that if I call a meeting like this, the "Project Manager" will be offended. When I've casually brought up the prospect of getting everyone together like this to him, he seems to want to avoid that. I also get the impression that he thinks meetings are a waste of time and that the lack of stability and cohesion in the project are not really a problem.

I don't want the project to be this much of a cluster f*ck, but I also don't want to rock the boat too much or come off as a new employee trying to take over everything. What should I do?

share|improve this question
1  
The project manager might be delighted by your offer of help. I'd suggest not overwhelming him by listing all the problems - just talk with him about one and offer to fix it. Repeat as required. You'll earn his trust before you know it. –  Scott Wilson Apr 18 '12 at 19:17

5 Answers 5

up vote 11 down vote accepted

I agree with your general sense - don't call a meeting that the Project Manager should call if you don't have the manager's blessing. What follows is stuff I've done in this circumstance - buyer beware, however, I eventually got promoted to management because I kept doing stuff like this. :)

  1. Talk to the theoretical Project Manager
    Have a list (written down!) in front of you (not shared with him) on the problems and their impacts. Don't be vague on this - have real examples - "I just spent 3 days finding the ACTUAL answer to X problem because it wasn't written down and no one knew. As it is, I'm only 60% certain I have the real answer" and "I've done similar 5 times in the first month that I've been here". Make the case for the problem - poor efficientcy/bad product - and ask if you can do the work and hold the meeting. Doing the "I have a problem & a solution" double whammy is usually a winner.

  2. Start drawing an info flow chart.
    Both of what might actually work, and also what seems to be happening now. If you can show the manager the chaos, you have a good case for resolving it. Also, having the "is this a good idea?" picture before the meeting you propose is likely to save some time. It's easier to throw rocks at a concept than to make the concept, especially when you have lots of people in the room.

  3. Have a proposal for what documents are "Must haves" and what can be ignored.
    Have a table, with specifics (URLs, file paths, current edit dates, versions, etc). Chances are that you have only a fraction of the chaos happening out there. Some people will come to this meeting thinking "it isn't THAT bad..." - when you ask for what you've missed from this list, and the team finds 30% more missing items (and the other half the team didn't even know half this stuff was out there), people will be convinced. The path to sanity is not more documents, but to weed down to 1 or 2 really good documents and to have a very, very clear, unavoidable process for keeping them up to date.

And - as an overriding theme - start these conversations with the thought that you may just be wrong. When the new guy tells me that my project is a total mess, I tend to get defensive. When the new guy tells me that he can't make sense of the chaos, he's afraid that perhaps there is only chaos, and he'd like to either understand the pattern of sanity, or help find a pattern for sanity - then I'm much more receptive... cause I know this guy is trying hard to make sense of it all, and since I think he's probably pretty smart, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that he gave me -- and figure that maybe there really is only chaos and we need to fix the mess.

share|improve this answer

I think you are already aware of the problem

The project doesn't have an official Project Manager per se

An effective project manager doesn't just prepare schedules and assign tasks, they also clear roadblocks and enable effective communication. The poor documentation and lack of communication going on right now are a result of not having a project manager.

The current manager in charge of the project doesn't necessarily sound like he is doing an ineffectual job, he is more than likely just swamped with 800 other responsibilities that are of higher importance right now and really doesn't have the time to address this in a way that you feel this project deserves.

Like Beth's answer above, come up with a list of all the problems and potential solutions that you identified and have a meeting with the manager. Convey your opinion on the importance of the project and the desire to address these problems.

The best way you can do this is volunteer to act as project manager on his behalf for this project. Try to convince him/her to give you responsibilities and abilities that would normally come with such a role. It will help identify you as somebody with their heart in the right place, somebody who wants to get into management and somebody who is wanting to help him/her deal with responsibilities that they personally sound too busy to deal with.

On that note I leave you with a Cautionary Tale. Before you suggest possibly being the project manager on this project, make sure that your manager is not a psychopathic control freak first. I once made a similar pitch to such a control freak that was in the office 14 hours a day and floundering in more responsibilities than he could handle and it turned out quite terribly for me. He got absurdly defensive and assumed I was gunning for him and his role, which I did not want. He made a point to be hyper-critical of everything I did from that point on and targeted me for demotions and punishments over tiny mistakes. Needless to say I didn't stick around long, but just watch out for the crazies.

share|improve this answer

Since you mentioned you only joined it "recently", I think the first thing you need to do is to figure out the people and relationships before you try anything.

Stuff that has dragged on that long typically have a LOT of "emotional" stakeholders and are politically tricky. In most cases, the people involved DO know what is wrong but haven't done anything and you need to find out the WHY.

Is it because the different teams have bad blood? How bad is it? Would they rather have the other party fail than to have the project succeed? Why aren't they communicating? Have they gotten to the point where they don't even WANT to talk to each other because of politics? Why is there no official project leader? Because the team leaders don't want to put themselves in a position where they will probably fail? Maybe not everyone in top management wants it to succeed for personal reasons? Who knows?

Sit back and figure out all you can about the relationships between the teams and team leaders before you go blundering in there. Listen to colleagues more, talk less, figure out what the heck is REALLY happening.

One thing to remember is that when management WANTS to get things done, they can. Else they would have been out of business a long time ago. If it hasn't happened then there must be a reason, you need to find out why management chooses to ignore the pink elephant that has been in the living room the past three years.

Then decide if you really want to get involved and how you want to approach it.

*If it really is a political issue, wait until top management finally decides to do something about it before you do anything since you won't have the clout to change anything anyway.

share|improve this answer

Do you have a team/company wiki? I have seen this used very effectively by "the new guy" to record "stuff I'm figuring out" and "stuff I'm confused about" -- as personal pages, not project pages, but since most people monitor recent changes they see this. A wiki, unlike sending email, is a broad invitation to contribute, so someone who can answer one of your questions can add a note without being sucked into the ensuing email chain or signing up to do more.

If you don't have a wiki, you can still keep those lists. Schedule a recurring meeting with your manager ("newcomer ramp-up", not forever), and go over those issues (specifically, as @bethlakshmi said).

Asking questions and seeking clarification will illustrate the problem in concrete terms, without evoking a "new guy has all the answers, grr" response. As you get answers you can organize this information for broader use, and maybe that will make the unofficial project manager receptive to you helping out more officially.

share|improve this answer

Unless you were brought in to be the manager and clean this stuff up, you are treading on some really thin ice here.

It seems like every newbie has a better way of doing things, that is, until they try to apply their way to the particular problems at the new company. That's when they realize the reasons why it is how it is. Anyways, most people will probably view your complaints in the light that its just another know-it-all newbie. So, you can rock the boat and look like a hero, but most likely you will create strained working relationships and/or a reputation that will be hard to discard.

IMO, you need to first demonstrate you are great at the job you were hired to do. Within the scope of doing your job, I am certain there will be opportunities for you to get your ideas out their as a natural part of doing your job. Once you get a few of your smaller ideas accepted and people begin to recognize that you have some good ideas then you will be in a better position to push bigger agendas.

Another piece of advice, If you want to point out a problem you had better darned well have a solution. There's no quicker way to get people to learn to tune you out than being that guy who is constantly pointing out problems but never fixes any of them.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.