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I find I have quite a bad memory so when I ask a team member if they could do something and let me know when it's done I tend to forget about it and rely on that person to remember and hence let me know when it's done.

However I find myself constantly having to chase people up when I realized they haven't done it. It's not just on the odd occasion but I find it happens the majority of the time to the point where I don't feel like I can trust the members in our team to remember to do something that we talked about.

Not only that, I find it effects my time as I feel like I have to remember not only my tasks but others as well. I understand everyone is busy with their work and so don't expect people to jump when said jump p.s. I'm not a manager as we work in a agile environment and so try to facilitate a flat level hierarchy where we can!

What I would like to do is become better at helping facilitate better communication between team members and expressing the desire that when we discuss an issue and agree to doing something the person takes ownership of that request.

NOTE: This is not a manager asking a team member but team members working together to resolve a problem and attempting to remove road blocks.

Such examples of requests might include:

  1. Asking them to check in their code as I am waiting on a piece of functionality that I know they have completed. I just ask to be notified when this has happened so I don't have to constantly check.
  2. They tell me they are checking in their code right now but nothing happens for a while. When I quiz them after a period of time they say they are doing it just now and suddenly it's done.
  3. I ask if they could send me some information on their task as it's related to what I am doing and would help me in my work at the time.
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    The easiest technique you could use to try and convey the importance of the task is to write down the task and when it is supposed to be reported. Do this in front of the team member, who is assigned the task. If he doesn't report in time, approach him or send a short email. Or set a reminder for both of you on your email system in advance. – greenfingers Jul 7 '14 at 8:36
  • @greenfingers Thanks. I'm not their manager so feel a bit uncomfortable doing a reminder for both of us. Especially if it's a just a verbal quick task request... – dreza Jul 7 '14 at 9:17
  • You say you're not their manager. Do you have any actual authority to ask them to do things or are these essentially just favour requests? – Anthony Grist Jul 7 '14 at 9:24
  • @AnthonyGrist The only authority I have is a more senior developer role (although we are agile so that is not really something). Other than that, no authority, but they aren't favour requests either. Often they are related to getting the job done in a team environment. – dreza Jul 7 '14 at 9:27
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    What's your question? – Vietnhi Phuvan Jul 7 '14 at 9:38
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As Greenfingers said in the comment, for yourself you can use some physical reminder: a note on a whiteboard, a calendar entry, etc.

But yes, "it [is] reasonable to expect that when asked the person is then responsible for responding". They are also responsible for e.g. reporting to you during the task when they face troubles. One often encountered issue here is people putting of reporting "I'm not going to complete the task in time". This should be told at the moment when they know, so that you together can work out alternatives in time.

For you the question is how you can cultivate that behaviour. From the information in your question it is hard to say how the relations are, although I interpret "having to chase people up" as not entirely frictionless.

Maybe you need to talk to them to make clear that if you do them a request and they accept, they take on the responsibility to do the task well. That includes reporting on time. You should stress that there is no blame in reporting failure or problems, if it is a mutual attempt to get things working (again). But you have to really have that conviction yourself, otherwise they will recognize it as untrue.

  • Thanks, yes it's not entirely frictionless but I think that has developed over a period of time. I must point out that I'm not their manager, so if it came across as such, I can re-word my question. – dreza Jul 7 '14 at 9:15
  • Your question is fine. The issue moves a bit into the manager/subordinate sphere, but what I write applies to every request and task. When you lend your neigbour your drill for two days, you expect him to ask you in time if he can keep it a little longer because building his shed takes longer than expected. – user8036 Jul 7 '14 at 9:26
  • @JanDoggen On the other hand, if you ask your neighbour to borrow his drill, and it takes him a few days to get it to you because he has other - to him much more important - things to deal with, you shouldn't really be upset about that. Not a perfect example because the work environment is a bit different to borrowing things from your neighbour, but closer to what actually seems to be happening here. – Anthony Grist Jul 7 '14 at 9:47
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You are the main part of the problem here. No you should not think that they will magically get back to you if you are managing a project. You have trained them that they don't need to by forgetting about it.

You need to to keep a list of who is assigned to what and what the due dates are. Then you need to check on progress daily. There is a reason why Scrum calls for a daily stand-up and this is it. It brings out who is making progress and who is not. It brings out roadblocks. You get what you expect and you, frankly, are expecting nothing as far as your team is concerned. If you aren't going to be concerned about the deadline, neither will the team.

  • Sorry, I didn't think I said I was their manager. Perhaps the question was a bit unclear? – dreza Jul 7 '14 at 20:23
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Assuming that everyone is trying to do the right thing but doesn't quite manage: It seems that you have educated your team members that your requests are really low priority, by asking them to do something, then forgetting it for a while and not checking until long after the task was originally due: That's a clear indication that the request was low priority in the first place. Your colleagues might be working hard on other tasks that to them seemed to be higher priority.

You could try this strategy: Ask for something to be done. Explain that you need it at time X, and explain why you need it at time X. Ask whether it can be done at that time. Ask the team member to tell you if there is any delay (which is of course possible since there might be other tasks with higher priority). After some time (maybe half the time up to time X), ask them casually if they have made any progress. If you hear "haven't started it yet because..." ask them why they didn't tell you, and make clear that you really need things at time X. After some more time, close to time X, ask whether things will be done at time X. If not, ask why not, why you were not told, and make very clear that you need the work. At time X, either be very grateful that the work is done, or explain what it costs you that it wasn't done in time. Do that at time X, not one day or one week later.

So you increase the priority of things that you need done, and make them more responsible for doing them. Very important is consistency. If you respond differently at different times in similar situations, they will have a very, very hard time to break habits. Their behaviour was Ok until now (not to you, but it looked Ok to them); to change the behaviour it must now be consistently not Ok.

You should probably set up reminders in your calendar for all these things. It shouldn't take much of your time, all the things I said maybe five minutes for a task.

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I have short-term memory issues myself, and I "manage" often enough by forgetting until it's too late. Not cool.

  1. Following up is both an essential skill for professionals, a task that needs to be done - you often enough not only have to make sure that the task was done, that it was done on time but that it was done in the right way that someone else can build on it.

  2. You also have to follow up to make sure that progress is being made toward the completion of a critical task and again, that the task is being done right and you need to know as early as possible what issues are arising and what deadlines are being threatened.

  3. The time and energy spent on following up is a cost of doing business and you just have to pay it. If you are not following up,you are not supervising, be it tasks or people. Not following up is not an option, so remove from my mind any leftover notion that you shouldn't be following up.

Given your short-term memory issues, you need to use a physical memory aid. Like a follow up list. And you need to consult that list say every hour. Consulting that list whenever you can wedge in some free time - that doesn't work. Time has a way of flying fast. When I am busy enough, I will get my nose off my desk only to realize that 3 or 4 hours if not the whole day passed me by. I cope with this situation by pairing my tasks followup list checks with my checks for inbox emails. If you need an immediate response, call, IM, etc - whatever it takes to get the other party's attention.

I believe that you are doing the right thing - following up-in the right way. Everything that you described as having to do is exactly what I have to do. Since you have short-term memory issues just as I do, you need to make an adjustment for your short-term memory issues as I described in the paragraph above. You want to work with your weaknesses and manage your weaknesses not fight them.

To summarize:following up is a skill, a task, and a necessary cost of doing business. You can't get away from it. Your objective is getting it done while minimizing the pain to you. Unfortunately, not always achievable. C'est la vie. You need to work on the pain minimization aspect :)

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It sounds like you need better tools. If things are being forgotten then the only way to fix that is to write them down and track them somewhere.

For software developers, the best thing to do is get a good task/bug tracking system and source control linked together.

A good task/bug tracking system will:

  • Let you track which tasks are currently assigned to individuals and what state the tasks are in (In Progress, Complete, etc)
  • Have a priority field to indicate the order that a developer should work on things
  • Automatically send email notifications when task assignments or state changes

Ideally, source control check-ins will be linked to the bug/task somehow.

With the proper tools in place, it will be much easier for everyone to keep track of what's going on.

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