April 15, 2013, 8:02 AM — While there are dozens of solutions for managing projects, managing human beings is a bit trickier. So CIO.com asked dozens of IT executives and project managers for their suggestions on how to keep tabs on what your direct reports and team members are working on, how best to monitor their progress and ways to quickly identify and prevent potential problems. Their top seven suggestions appear below.
1. Define what needs to get done by whom by when upfront. "As a manager, it's important for you to clearly define what needs to get done and by what date," says Wayne Mekjian, executive vice president and head of Information Services, Wells Fargo & Company.
"Running through various tasks on a list does not give your team enough understanding of what results are expected of them so they can make the right kind of progress," Mekjian says. So it's important to create a roadmap and schedule at the onset--and periodically check in with your team to see if milestones are being met.
2. Use tools that allow team members to share documents and files. "We use Google Docs, which enables us to see the progress on any project at anytime," says John Paul Engel, the president of Knowledge Capital Consulting.
"Even our clients can view the work so they see the progress as well." How does sharing keep projects on track? "Visibility means I have to do less monitoring and reviewing," Engel says. "I trust them to get the work done and if it's not then it's clear to everyone. This level of visibility helps me identify problems early."
3. Meet with your team on a regular basis. "We have a monthly direct reports meeting where we discuss major initiatives, the overall state of the union and allow each person to share updates on what they feel is important," explains Larry Bonfante, CIO, United States Tennis Association (USTA). "Meeting with people on a regular basis ensures that you know how to best support their success and that projects never veer very far off target."
4. Take notes and follow up. "To help keep people and projects on track, I keep regular performance notes in an online performance journal (called Feedback Central)," says Mazin Abou-Seido, director of IT, Halogen Software, a provider of employee performance management services. "This feedback is then used both in my weekly meetings with staff, and to help keep goals on track over the course of the year."
5. Ask people how they are doing and if they need help-but don't be a micromanager. "Try to engage them in a more relaxed atmosphere and just take their pulse, see what's going on with them in their lives, see how things are going and what [you] can do to best support their progress," says Bonfante.
"Regular communication not only allows you to stay aware of what's happening but also lets you help remove obstacles that come along the project path," says Mekjian. However, be careful not to hover or constantly ask "How are you doing?" While it's important to stay involved, it's equally important that you give team members the time and room they need to get the work done.
6. Use videoconferencing and IM to keep in contact with remote employees. "In today's global economy, many organizations have offices, and therefore employees, spread out around the world and across multiple time zones," says Sergio Galindo, global product manager, GFI Software, which provides web, email and network security software and services for SMBs.
"Utilizing communication tools such as instant messaging and video teleconferencing platforms for face-to-face interactions are necessary methods for team members to collaborate on projects and for managers to stay informed of employees' progress and ensure corporate objectives are met," Galindo says.
"I conduct all IT meetings with my staff and vendors [via a] cloud-based video conferencing service," says Jason Ray, vice president of Technology, GAVI Alliance, which provides access to immunization in poor countries-- and does work in more than 70 countries. "I can connect my room-based system to desktop solutions and to Skype. I don't need internal staff to manage it because it is reliable and easy to use, and I don't have to worry about what video service others are using."
7. Consider a bring-your-own-device-friendly policy."BYOD-friendly policies allow employees to connect with their managers anytime, anyplace, including from home, where increasing amounts of work are being done," says Bill Rosenthal, CEO, Logical Operations, a provider of instructor-led training courseware.
"If you give employees easy access to the company's systems, and especially to you, you'll get faster updates on what everybody's doing," Rosenthal says. Moreover, "you won't have to work as hard as you do to keep track of reports and projects."
Jennifer Lonoff Schiff is a regular contributor to CIO.com and runs a marketing communications firm.