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Project Portfolio Management

How to Follow Up More Effectively with Direct Reports

Published By Team Clarizen

Communication in the workplace can be a minefield with the ability to either elevate or sink productivity, depending on how good it is. So, it’s quite understandable that it’s one of the most important project manager skills. Getting positive results from direct reports can often require a delicate mix of encouragement and pressure, the right amount of which differs from person to person. One thing that is certain, though, is that few, if any, reports enjoy the feeling of a manager hovering over their shoulder, constantly asking them when something’s going to be finished.

If you want to boost your project manager skills and start communicating more effectively at work, here are some tips to get you started.

Respect their time and situation

Despite what some management might think, if work is delayed, it’s probably not because someone’s asleep at their desk or taking two hours for lunch. A first step in creating more understanding and better communication in the workplace is to acknowledge where the other person is coming from. If they haven’t delivered something, it’s most likely because they’re busy and caught up with something else.

Sure, this may not be the case 100% of the time, but assuming the best helps you start from a place of respect that paves the way for more honest communication in the future. You’ll often find one of two things to be true: your direct report actually has too much on their plate, or their productivity really isn’t where you need it to be for some reason beyond your control. In either case, an honest and respectful back-and-forth can help you work together to remedy the situation.

Ask for updates on tasks

Depending on the workflow system you use, you might already have a ready-made process for not having to directly ask someone where that work is. If using a project management tool, such as Clarizen’s suite of software, which requires each responsible member to update progress on the task bar, you can simply ask for a quick status update if the task has gone into delayed mode.

Get on the same page

Bridging the disconnect between management and reports is one of the most important project manager skills, and one of the best ways of doing that is to create a team ethos. While a franchise quarterback might be the most important member of a football team, without an O-line they’d spend most of the game getting tackled into the dirt. For management, this means getting everyone on the same page and supporting productivity rather than pointing out mistakes.

For example, if certain tasks aren’t overly urgent but you’re constantly hitting up reports to ask where they are, you create a sense of urgency that isn’t necessary. This stress and panic might make people hurry to do what you want, but long-term it’s not a good look for any office or your team’s productivity. In fact, it can even backfire by creating unnecessarily rushed (and sloppy) work.

Build breathing space into deadlines

If someone’s running over a deadline, there’s a good chance they know it themselves and are working to get it done. In this situation, having breathing space allows you to take some time before needing to follow up.

To do this, create two task completion estimates, an “optimistic” and an “actual” one. Give your reports the “optimistic” deadline, ensuring that it is actually possible for them to do it within that period. Then use the difference between your reports’ deadline and the “actual” deadline as a flexible “float” or breathing space.

CCing: Don’t make public what can easily stay private

CCing has become one of the hottest workplace battlefields. However, this simple, silent and not-in-the-least passive-aggressive addition to an email can feel like overkill if unnecessary. It’s like a barista gave you skinny instead of half and half, but instead of just pointing out the problem, acknowledging that we all make mistakes and politely asking for a new coffee, you decide to start up a conversation with the cafe manager about it, directly in earshot of the barista who made your drink.

Of course, it’s always good to have a paper trail and to keep relevant stakeholders informed where necessary. But for simply checking up on work progress, make sure the CCs are actually necessary before throwing them around like confetti at a very judgemental wedding. An added bonus is that you’ll be cutting down on other people’s inbox overload, too.

Increase your business agility with Clarizen’s project management software

Excellent communication in the workplace is vital for effective collaboration. At Clarizen, we understand what teams need to work together productively. That’s why communication has always been such a strong focus for our software, allowing teams to seamlessly communicate either inside task-specific workspaces or on a whole project level. To find out how Clarizen can help your team to communicate better, get in touch with us today for a guided demonstration.

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Written by Team Clarizen