I am a project manager. My boss has notified me that a member of my team is underperforming. My boss was covering me whilst I was away on annual leave with general day to day management duties. My colleague is a web developer on the back end. We know he has the ability but it just seems as though he lacks focus and concentration.

The following reasons are why he is underperforming:

  • Producing error prone work i.e. work that keeps on breaking on production to the point it has irritated my boss.

To give him the benefit of the doubt he is a backend developer so it is hard to internally QA his work since it is not visual which is why we have encouraged him to write as many tests as possible.

  • As an organisation we have been very patient with him by allowing him to set his own timeframes, but often because of the above it takes ages to finalise work properly making him unreliable and not dependable.

  • We use project planning tools to track the delivery of work, I can see after coming back from vacation that he has not been using it. This is mandatory since as an organisation we are unable to track what has been delivered without it.

  • In comparison to my other colleague, the time it takes him to produce work is generally a lot slower. My other colleague work has bugs, but often they are resolved quickly.

  • He does not take a lot of initiative, sometimes it feels as though I need to spoon feed him with what to do i.e. reminding him to change the status of his tickets as he has completed his work etc.

  • He has trouble estimating how long his work will take to complete. I have tried to help him by breaking down the work into much smaller chunks and his estimates are still way off.

  • His work ethic is not as strong as my colleagues who tries very hard every week to complete the work he has committed to for that work.

  • He is very opinionated, often have had heated discussions when we disagree on something (I am often correct).

On the whole, this has been an on-going issue.

To improve his attitude and make him more of a team player, I have tried to:

  • mentor him in one to one meetings by making him understand why things need to be done in a certain way. He seemingly agrees, but then after a few weeks old behavioural traits appear.

I am now running out of ideas. I have considered being a lot more firmer with him, but I am worried it may leave him demotivated.

Any idea how to approach this situation.

  • 5
    Is there a reason why you can't replace him?
    – PM 77-1
    May 27, 2017 at 19:29
  • 3
    If you are a manager, disciplining an employee is part of your job. We are not in a position to tell people how to do their jobs. May 27, 2017 at 21:30
  • 9
    @DJClayworth: People come here all the time with questions about how to do their jobs! Often they get good advice too.
    – TonyK
    May 27, 2017 at 21:53
  • 1
    Far too many managers think that their employees are irreplaceable, or that the team won't be able to get all the work done without them, even if those employees are not particularly skilled or diligent. If he quit tomorrow, would it really be that big of a problem for the team? If not, then why do you need to keep him on the team now?
    – Pedro
    May 27, 2017 at 22:58
  • 1
    Spoke to my dev, @RobertdeGraaf that seems to be the underlying issue.
    – bobo2000
    May 30, 2017 at 12:11

4 Answers 4


When you have somebody with problems usually punishing them just makes it worse. I think some companies punish workers in the hope that they quit, so they won't have to go through the difficulty of firing them. It is not my philosophy, but I understand why other people do it.

Your steps so far seem reasonable to me.

The key thing is to make sure that it is clear exactly what you expect. I recommend writing emails that are extremely explicit and spell out with no question exactly what you want him do, down to specifying functions and parameters. If he is not doing stuff, visit him, tell him to bring up the email on the screen so you both can read it. Ask him, "Did you read this email?"

Don't ask why he didn't get stuff done, you will just get excuses. Excuses are worthless. Also, questioning of that kind could be construed as "rubbing his nose in it". You don't want to create a hostile or antagonistic atmosphere. The key thing is that he understands perfectly what you expect to have done and by when. The goal here is to make sure he understands that he is underperforming.

At the end of the day you are going to have some workers that are not good, so eventually you either need to lower your expectations or get rid of them.

  • 3
    "Don't ask why he didn't get stuff done" - I disagree. Excuses are indeed worthless, but there might actually be something in his rationale that you want to hear, perhaps a genuine issue. If/when you take administrative action, you also want to have documented the alleged reasons he didn't do the work right. And asking him puts him on the spot and forces him to give you some answer, which starts a conversation that you can use to drive the point home. If you just give him a one-way lecture, it is easy to just nod and say "Okay" without thinking at least a little bit about what you're saying.
    – Pedro
    May 28, 2017 at 1:04

In your position I would aim to help him to help me. Your ultimate goal as project manager is to get the project completed to spec on time and on budget. But to do that you need your team to be at their best, so you want to support him in order to help him achieve that. You already know that of course, but how do you do it?

You've stated he has the abilities but is not performing. So it feels like a motivation problem, he just doesn't care.

Use the "Five Whys" of root cause analysis to get to the bottom of why he is underperforming.

The first "why" will be "Why is X underperforming?" to which a likely, but not certain answer will be "because he is not motivated"

You can then proceed to ask "why is he not motivated" (or a different question if the answer to the first one is different)

Keep asking why to proceed along the chain of causes until you reach something you can solve easily. It might turn out to be something trivial such as seating position, or something slightly more involved but still very possible such as adjusting working hours to work around something that is happening in his personal life.

Once you are able to adjust the root cause, over time the effects will work their way up the chain and everything will fall into place.

Make sure to review the chain of causes regularly in order to measure the effectiveness of any changes you have made and ensure you are in a position to make small steering corrections where needed.


As a PM your loyalty belongs to your project/customer/employer/colleague (in order of descending priority).

  • minimize the damage: people who produce error prone work should not be given priority/important tasks. Don't give him exposure to customers. Dont make project-critical things depend on him

  • talk to him/his boss about how you see him currently. It is not the PMs task to make plans for an employee, but the task of the boss and the employee.

  • as a PM your priorities are your project. If a resource is no use you, remove him/her.or negotiate a lower price (that is what i did - i agreed to a colleague on a project but only if her hours are billed in a ratio 0f 1.5:1).

  • The most critical points which i see are that you describe him as opinionated and not motivated. Clearly discuss with him and his boss that you wont allow this in your project.

To put it short: The best way to discipline him is to give him tasks appropriate to his attitude and skills, reduce his value t ohis boss and leave the further disciplining steps to his boss.


Put him on a PIP while you look for a replacement. You've tried other avenues, now you need to look at protecting your projects and the rest of the teams morale.


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