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I am currently working with a student group to build a video game. In this group there is a member who possesses next to no skills in any relevant discipline (Art, Programming, Sound Design, ...) to be of any help to us.

The disciplines in which he does posses a sliver of skill, we have someone on the team who can do a much better job in a shorter amount of time. Furthermore he shows no effort to grow his skill-set and any conversation around the topic is met with deflection.

Unfortunately we cannot have him removed from the group for some time and must try to make use of him in the meantime while we organise another ideal arrangement. I have already had a word with the unit convener and there is nothing that can be done at the moment and we likely won't know for some time.

What would be the best step forward in this situation?

closed as off-topic by sleske, gnat, Mister Positive, The Wandering Dev Manager, Chris E Mar 15 '17 at 15:52

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    I don't believe that they have no relevant skills. Maybe they can write documentation, maybe they can at least play a game and test the game for you. And there are always menial tasks. However, judging from "no effort to grow his skill-set and any conversation around the topic is met with deflection" it rather sounds like you have a motivation problem. This sounds like a classic problem of team dynamics and learning to deal with team issues is an important soft skill. – Roland Mar 15 '17 at 8:06
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    Recommend him for management ;-) – Captain Emacs Mar 15 '17 at 10:52
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    @CaptainEmacs A bad manager is worse than no manager... – T. Sar Mar 15 '17 at 11:29
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    Have them make the teas – Richard Mar 15 '17 at 11:40
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    @Roland is right. At the very least, they are your QA / documentation person. They have something to offer. – Mister Positive Mar 15 '17 at 12:45
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From what I've gathered the main problem that you're facing is not an underperforming colleague, but rather communication.

Poor skills are something that can be improved, and, considering it's a student group we're talking about, that's something to strive for. To me it sounds like he's performing poorly, yet is unwilling to accept that, and thus doesn't see the need to improve.

You as group - excluding the under-performer - should come together, and select one of you to have a 1:1-talk with him, explaining the problems etc. It may very well be that the under-performer is in a state of denial, and openly discussing those issues with him in a "safe" environment (e.g. 1:1) might help with that. Examples of him under-performing (without being rude) can also help a lot.

If the talk works out, you can proceed to assign him to one of your other group members as assistance. Yes, this may seem a bit weird, but it's probably the best way of teaching him whilst not giving up too much productivity.


However, if he still isn't willing to improve, give him very-low-requirements-tasks, like repetitive paperwork and the like, as already stated by Dustybin80 and Vishwamithra.

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    This is probably the most diplomatic solution that works out for all parties. Thanks for the response! – Collateral Entropy Mar 15 '17 at 8:22
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    Also: Let him work together with someone else to improve his skills where someone else is better but he at least has a basis in. Think paired programming. The other might do the most work, but still sometimes two eyes see more as one and it will help him to improve, maybe enough so he can in the future do similar tasks himself without too much time lost. – skymningen Mar 15 '17 at 9:02
  • @skymningen Exactly what I was trying to get at. :) – Seth Mar 15 '17 at 9:07
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    Wow... of course it is four eyes see more as two, unless one or both of your fellow students are one-eyed. I am sorry. I seem to be a little off today. – skymningen Mar 15 '17 at 9:13
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    @CollateralEntropy I would suggest you wait longer before selecting an answer. Many users of this site that you want to hear from are on the other side of the world from you. ( IMHO, YMMV ) – Mister Positive Mar 15 '17 at 12:46
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The disciplines in which he does posses a sliver of skill, we have someone on the team who can do a much better job in a shorter amount of time.

Time to enhance your project management skills by changing your thinking.

You seem to think that you must always have the most skilled person in each discipline exclusively work that task. That's simply not the case.

Let's say he's the second best at UI design. If he takes up that task, that could free enough time from the individual who is best at UI design to handle another difficult task such as database design.

Each task doesn't need to be handled solely be the one who is the best. Often the project is better overall when tasks are handled by someone who is "good enough".

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What about QA? If he is flat out lazy he'll probably do a shoddy job at anything you give him. However he should at least be capable of testing the work, finding edge cases and bugs.

Failing that is there any supporting documentation he can draft or something he can produce a paper design for like the UI or menu systems, so even if his art work sucks it won't be used other than as a guide.

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    One social technique to get this done with actively blocking personalities is to literally tell them "Try to break it". The direct challenge plus the destructive nature of the task are natural motivators. – Weckar E. Mar 15 '17 at 9:27
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    Any reason for the down vote? It might help improve the answer. – Dustybin80 Mar 15 '17 at 11:35
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    Very likely a butthurt QA tester who misinterpreted your answer to mean that QA is a menial job when it is not. – James Mar 15 '17 at 11:43
  • @Jimbo we all appreciate a good QA tester, definitely not my intention to denigrate that noble profession! – Dustybin80 Mar 15 '17 at 11:51
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Well, what is this guy interested in?

Maybe he wants to do something totally different from programming? There are other roles he can take which would provide use.

For example, you're building a video game - they don't exist in isolation. Can this person do research to qualify how successful this video game will be (I know it isn't part of the project, and this probably isn't a game that will ever be successful - but by engaging him in something he might like doing you'll engage him in the overall project too, which will help with output). Or what marketing segments might need to be targeted? Or - and i know this was thrown as a joke in the comments - but project management is an essential skillset for any successful project. Why not let him do that?

(I know another comment noted that "a bad manager is worse than no manager" - but just because someone isn't incentivised to write code doesn't preclude them from effective management!)

  • If he does not have basic skills in any relevant discipline I don't think he can manage the project because he would need to know what the next steps are or what to rough outline of the work will be in general, – problemofficer Jul 11 '17 at 2:11
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You can think of below options.

I am saying generally.

  1. Paper work like preparing reports and tutorials preparation.
  2. Facilitating work like arranging meetings etc... .
  3. Status updating.
  4. Repeated work like testing or executing automation works and generating reports.
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Student groups often include one or more slackers who don't contribute as much to the project as the others. Outside of an academic setting you would just throw them out and find someone more motivated, but in a student group this is unfortunately usually not an option. That means you will have to work around them. Focus your time and energy on cooperating with those members of your group which are capable and willing to work for the project's success and don't waste your time with trying to squeeze work out of those who don't want to cooperate.

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