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I am working with someone producing user content to be included in a software application. He is not a coder, but rather an expert in his field, sharing the knowledge.

His contribution, taken piece by piece is great, but he goes in all directions and has issues producing work sequentially. He works on 25 pieces of content at the same time, and as soon as he reads something 'interesting', he wants to rewrite some of his stuff to improve the quality of it. He does not converge naturally.

He collects tons of informations, produces some valuable stuff, but in a completely unstructured way.

We addressed this issue with him some time ago and in order to try to solve it, we created a document with the 100 items he had to fill. Problem is, it does not seem to work very well.

How to deal with those people and collect information? I was thinking about a new technique: ask him to send his bits, out of order, little by little, as soon as they are ready, and keep a list of what remains to be done, and show him that list to give him direction.

This situation is stressing the hell out of me. If his production was not good, I would not be trying so hard to make this work. If you have experience to share, it is welcome.

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closed as off topic by Walter, GrandmasterB, gnat, Steven A. Lowe, psr Sep 17 '12 at 19:18

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Focus on delivering item N, when N is delivered all work on items 1..N is automatically discarded/commits rolled back/etc - close the time sheet entries for these. Only work on item N+1..100 is accepted. – user1249 Sep 16 '12 at 15:30
You addressed the issue some time ago with no follow-up and/or consequences for his behavior and you expected it to change? – JeffO Sep 17 '12 at 2:55
people can't change, not really. The only thing that can change is changes in environment and how a person reacts to it. If his work is really that good you want to make some kind of way in which he can function. – Pieter B Sep 17 '12 at 6:56
Yes, poor work ethics, I agree. I am not his supervisor, since this is a joint venture project. I have to decide whether I'll give him more time or not. My trust in him in nearly completely depleted. He has to come with something, a working plan... – JVerstry Sep 17 '12 at 13:06
@JVerstry - If he does not have ADHD then he is simply not able to focus his talents and thus is just a bad employee. He can be the best in his field but if he does not produce what he needs to produce then he does more harm then good. Address his poor work ethics. Give him an assignment and a deadline. If he does not meet his deadline manage that problem. If giving him more time is not a problem, then give it to him, but make sure you focus his efforts. You should come up with a backup plan if his new deadline is missed. – Ramhound Sep 17 '12 at 13:08
up vote 20 down vote accepted

The situation seems very similar that the one which exists with developers. They start a project, then learn a new pattern or a new technology and want to use it, forgetting about the fact that the project must be delivered in two weeks and that they've done only half of it.

You may try to reuse the techniques used to enforce some discipline with developers:

  • Daily meetings. The person you're talking about may feel really bad if for three consecutive meetings, the dialog is similar to:

    Manager: What have you done yesterday?
    Person: I noticed that the section 14 was not clear enough and rewritten it. Also I found some huge improvements for section 18 and 19.
    Manager: Ok. But to be clear, you haven't started writing new sections?
    Person: No.
    Manager: You know that you've written only 25 sections of 100, and that you have only three weeks to write the remaining 75?
    Person: Of course.
    Manager: How do you believe being able to deliver in time?

  • Simple bug tracking system where there is one ticket per item to deliver.

    Advantage: it's very easy to see what's done and what must be done in future, as well as the progression through time.

    Issue: using a bug tracking system requires itself discipline. The person may forget to mark tickets as resolved, or may simply not use the bug tracking system at all.

  • Delays per part of work. If there are 100 sections to write, do not tell the person that those 100 sections must be written in four weeks. Tell that the sections 1 to 25 must be delivered before the next Sunday, sections 26 to 50 - the Sunday after that, etc.

    Be strict if the person doesn't deliver the first part of the work for the first deadline. If you're not, the person would not be motivated to respect the next delivery dates.

Note that as well as when you deal with developers, the faster you want the result, the lower would be the quality. Rewriting the content is a good thing, since it enhances its quality. It is similar to refactoring for the developers, and must not be forbidden by the management because of delivery delay issues.

Sometimes, you have to choose: either the person keeps the delays and deliver finished, but rather badly written and poor content, or you tell yourself that delivering three months later is acceptable at the condition to have excellent content the readers will truly appreciate.

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The daily meetings may also work if the finishing line is "You did this too in the previous project and you didn't finish on time. Do you expect to be able to finish the project on time if you continue like this?" – user1249 Sep 16 '12 at 16:33
Like the bug-tracking idea. What about a daily email status report instead of daily meetings? Make it clear that you are tracking number of items completed each day over the quality of those items (sounds like this person will give you quality anyway). – GlenPeterson Sep 17 '12 at 3:25
daily status meetings and daily emails can sometimes feel burdensome and feel like micromanaging. – omouse Dec 15 '14 at 4:14

Ask for the content for Task 1. No other content matters until he delivers on Task 1. When that's complete, ask for Task 2, and so on. Keep written records of what you ask for, when you ask for it, and when you get it.

If you don't care which content is next (i.e., you need Tasks 6, 7, and 8 all complete before you can proceed), just pick one and ask for it.

If he delivers something you haven't asked for, set it aside and keep the focus on what you did ask for.

It's obvious that someone else needs to schedule his activities and not him.

If you're not his manager you can still do this. Always be polite, never threaten, keep good notes, and make sure your management knows the score.

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+1 he needs managing. – user1249 Sep 16 '12 at 15:31
This definitely. Thing is many creative minds will have a very difficult time seeing the forest for the trees when told to do 100 things, they will. All at the same time. Because they can.. well, almost. Best not to give more than 1 or 2 things at MOST to anyone like this. They usually can produce VERY well, but must be given to understand very clearly what their current priority is. Context switching is amazingly dangerous for these people as they will find completely new stuff each time they go back and forth. The key is to stop context switches. – Jimmy Hoffa Sep 16 '12 at 18:09
This sounds like a good way to change that valuable employee into either an invaluable employee or into an ex-employee. – David Hammen Sep 16 '12 at 18:28
@DavidHammen - an invaluable employee is a good thing. Furthermore an invaluable employees' late work is not unvaluable. You can be the best programmer on the planet but if you miss deadlines then your work is near worthless. – Ramhound Sep 17 '12 at 13:04
Sorry, I meant unvaluable, not invaluable. Force a person to change their very way of being and you should expect some side effects, not always to the good. – David Hammen Sep 17 '12 at 15:28

It is impossible to change the way a person works without affecting the result of his work. It is important then to focus on business aspects of the deliverables. The fact that you get upset with the way your collaborator makes progress is not enough to try to change. What really matters is that delivery dates are met and that the job meets the specifications given and have an adequate level of quality (what is not a problem based on what you explain).

So, define dates that are ok for the team to work comfortably (understanding that the deliverable is used by other team members to continue with your process) and be clear on what is expected.

If your process permits, adapt it to benefit from new versions of the tasks already delivered and that your colleague produces new changes. It can be painful but quality will be beneficial. If this is not possible explain to your colleague that what he sees as an improvement is really having a negative impact on the rest of the team as they need to redo their work. Maybe together you can find a way to collaborate better.

If your concern is about the cost that this has for your business, tight a little bit the dates or give him more work to do, with clear dates to finish (yes, this won't help your nerves in the short term).

The alternative, package the assignments in smaller bunches, may also work but it will be difficult to justify sometimes and you may lose credibility in front of him and the team.

By the way, this question should go better to PM Stack Exchange web

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You've only stated symptoms and not really the problem(s). Do things not get done on time? Does he turn in material in such a disorganized way that it puts additional burdens on others?

Get to the heart of the problem and you'll get better suggestions on getting this person to focus on what is important. This could negatively impact this person's work, so you have to consider this. To a certain extent, I'd love to be able to work on what I want when I want, but I'm more beneficial to those around me when my efforts are coordiated with theirs.

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I really start to think that this is a case of one having to put fences around cows. We don't want the cows to run in the wild nature with cow boys fetching them once or twice a year anymore. We need to milk them on a daily basis... I guess I have to set stricter limits... – JVerstry Sep 17 '12 at 7:43

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