I am leading a research project which involves a number of international collaborators. We have been working with one collaborator since early this year to develop a Spanish version of the survey we are launching through his University. We are ready to launch the survey, but he is constantly missing deadlines, taking weeks to do small tasks, and being very vague when I ask where the hold up is.

He is important and has been valuable to this project. He has an extensive network that will see the survey and significantly boost the research capacity. However, he is simply offered co-authorship on the papers so no financial incentives are present - it is essentially voluntary.

I think the problem is stemming for his continuous need for 'refinement' and perfectionism. I have started setting launch deadlines, asking where the issue is, and that we need to put more energy into the launch. However, he got back saying we need to continue refining the survey, and that the project will be launched this week - which he has said multiple times - always delayed.

We obviously need to air the issues surrounding this lack of action. I am beginning to see this relationship as a waste of time, however.

How do i communicate with him effectively, striking a balance between strictness and understanding? How would you manage this individual?

  • What exactly are you trying to accomplish with this individual?
    – sf02
    Commented Sep 17, 2019 at 17:40
  • 2
    I am trying to get him to launch the survey in his University to his network.
    – Anonymous
    Commented Sep 17, 2019 at 17:41
  • If you hold no authority over him, it will be difficult to force him to do anything.
    – sf02
    Commented Sep 17, 2019 at 17:44
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    This may be more appropriate over on academia.stackexchange since it appears to relate to issues and norms in academic collaboration. Commented Sep 17, 2019 at 18:42
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    Related, don't let perfection be the enemy of good and chase perfection and catch excellence.
    – user25792
    Commented Sep 17, 2019 at 20:17

3 Answers 3


As with many questions on Workplace, good communication is at the heart of the answer.

My suggestion: Convene a weekly (or daily) conference telephone call with all your participants. If you can, use a conference service with video capability. There are plenty of those. The point of a call rather than an email thread is to expose all participants to their peers.

The topic of the conference call should be "readiness to launch."

Ask each participant to state whether they're ready to go ahead. If they're not ready, ask them to say what's blocking them from being ready. Don't assume anything about their reasons; let them state their reasons, themselves, to all participants.

Then, after each participant has spoken, propose a launch date and ask for discussion. It seems likely your participants will explain to one another why it's important to meet the date. That way, you personally won't have to pester this person who is not cooperating.

You will have to be ruthless about one thing: People who won't cooperate with this "readiness to launch" conference call are off your project.

  • OP may want to do a conference call at the beginning of each week (each Monday) to talk about specific goals to be done by Friday of that week. Then do another conference call with this employee on Friday to review what was actually done, and to receive deliverables. Make sure deliverables to OP are defined clearly on Monday.
    – Bulrush
    Commented Sep 18, 2019 at 12:36
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    @Bulrush it seems the participants in this project aren't employees, but rather independent and voluntary. So the typical goal-focused management techniques are probably the wrong thing.
    – O. Jones
    Commented Sep 19, 2019 at 9:46
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    @o-jones Dangit, how do I ping you when you have a space in your username? lol. You're not wrong, but this guy volunteered to get specific tasks done and he's not getting it done. This is a difficult problem. I was art director for the Internet Movie Project in the 1990s. It collapsed because the volunteers didn't do what they committed to.
    – Bulrush
    Commented Sep 19, 2019 at 10:28

If you are the leader, you set deadlines and you enforce them. If you don't enforce deadlines, people will just walk all over you, and you're not really the leader.

In your specific instance you have a single member of a team who is trying to control your project. You can either take the heavy-handed approach -- "I'm sorry, but we're out of time and I'll be releasing the survey" -- or the lighter-handed one -- "I need to know who approves of the current survey" -- and announce that some threshold is required.

Then you actually do what you said you were going to do.

  • 2
    I don't think this will help in this case as the OP wants this person to release the survey.
    – sf02
    Commented Sep 17, 2019 at 20:30
  • @sf02 - I'd like a pony. I'd also like time to go backwards so I'm not an old lady. Part of what it takes to be an actual leader is making decisions and sticking with them. She's either leading the project, or this problematic collaborator is. Commented Sep 18, 2019 at 14:27
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    This is an academic collaboration, typically this means there is no "leader" with authority to lead and set deadlines, just potentially a "driver" that pushes and reminds everyone of external deadlines and their agreed to commitment. Like one of the comments on the question already indicates might be better placed at academia.stackexchange though. Commented Sep 19, 2019 at 1:04
  • @FrankHopkins - I’m familiar with the process. The techniques change for the environment, which is why I suggested getting buyin from the others. In a more ... authoritarian ... environment leaders can say “we’re doing it my way, or else”, but that has a limited shelf life. The key, in any environment, is holding people to their commitments, unless there are serious issues. The word I keyed on is “perfectionism” and her conclusion this relationship is a “waste of time”. I could edit my answer if that would make my thought processes clearer. Commented Sep 20, 2019 at 11:43

Show them this, with special attention to "good":

a venn diagram of three circles, labelled "Good", "Fast", and "Cheap". Next to it says "Pick two" - Good + fast = won't be cheap; fast + cheap = won't be good; cheap + good = won't be fast

  • Any explanation for the downvotes? When I first saw this, a few decades back, it was complete revalidation for me. I, too, was a perfectionist at the time, but have since learned the value of "good enough" and that businesses need to launch products in order to make sales in order for me to have projects to work on
    – Mawg
    Commented Sep 18, 2019 at 9:20
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    Part 1: This is a rule we developers use. It's not that we don't try to get all 3, it's that managers often don't understand that fixing those last 10% of bugs (which are the most difficult) can take 30% or more of the time. When managers make a time line, they often completely ignore that unexpected issues do come up in development, and they come up on almost every project, but especially anytime we use any new technology or method in a project. There will still be problems with different tools where problems are undocumented or simply not encountered before.
    – Bulrush
    Commented Sep 18, 2019 at 12:39
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    Part 2: When someone sets up deadlines for a project, IMO they should set aside time for 1) things they know they don't know and 2) things they don't know they don't know.
    – Bulrush
    Commented Sep 18, 2019 at 12:43
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    Haha, if OP shows this to the other person they might feel totally fine being on the good and cheap side. They seem to want quality and I'm pretty sure OP doesn't pay them. Commented Sep 19, 2019 at 1:06
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    @Arsak I tried to explain the peripheral issues in a roundabout way related to the graphic above. For most projects, software or otherwise, management can only get 2 out of 3 projects. There are exceptions but they are few and far between because normally there's a deadline the devs have to make. The point of the graphic: pick 2 out of the 3 items, because you normally cannot get all 3. The org normally doesn't have the time or money to get all 3. 99% of business in the US is small business under 500 employees. (sbecouncil.org/about-us/facts-and-data)
    – Bulrush
    Commented Sep 19, 2019 at 10:32

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