Reviewing Project Team Members, part 2

This post originally appeared on August 20, 2010 on

In the first part of this series, I focused on things people managers can do to improve the review process for employees who spend most of their time working on projects. This second part will focus on getting down to writing the review and then having a discussion about the review with your employee.
Putting Pen to Paper (or Fingers to Keyboard)
You’re busy. So is your employee. Don’t put this off until the last minute. The last thing you want is your employee telling you that getting their review complete isn’t going to happen because they’re in the final week of their project and they simply don’t have time to do it. Set the deadline early, make it consistently the same time from period to period and remind your employees to schedule time for it in their personal (or possibly even the project’s) plan.
If your employee has done exactly what is expected of them, don’t waste your time and theirs writing a page to say so. On target assessments really don’t rate a novella. If your employee has done exemplary or horrendous work, then say so in as firm a language as possible. If they’ve done only what was necessary for the moderate rating, then there is nothing more to say other than what they can do to achieve a higher rating.
One way your employee knows what to focus on in the next period is if you include goals for them to achieve in the next review period. Let your project team member know that you expect them to manage larger projects in the next cycle or that they will themselves be leading a small team of analysts.
Include as much hard data as you can. If you manage a team of testers and one tester regularly finds more defects than anyone else, list the number of defects found and the % of total found in their review. If a lengthy requirements document was accepted on the first pass with no only two minor changes, saving weeks worth of potential rework, make sure that effort is noted. These items make a good pairing when used with the ‘Naught or Nice’ list discussed in the first post in this series.
Conducting the review
After all of the specific project employee suggestions I had in previous sections, this last area is going to be surprisingly devoid of project specifics for this area. In many ways, reviews are simply another meeting which needs your attention. That said, do your best to not treat the time you are spending with your employee this way, even if deep down that’s how you feel about it. Do your best to fake it. Don’t be dishonest about it as your employees will easily catch any false enthusiasm you try to put forth, but make it as enjoyable, or as minimally painful, as you can. If you’re hating the time there, chances are that your employees feel the same.
Don’t waste time during the session. Have a plan for what has to be said and be flexible in everything else. I usually know how I am going to start the session, the key points I need to make during the review and what I am going to say to close it out. If it takes five minutes or fifty, I want those to be productive minutes and not a waste for either of us. If your employee has nothing to add once you’ve said what needs to be said, don’t just hang out, get out of there and get back to your projects.
Once all the requirements for the review have been met, it is then just a chat in a coffee shop with a friend. I am up front about it being an open discussion and any topic is fair game. I can’t always promise I can answer, but if I can’t answer, I at least tell them I can’t even if I can’t tell them why.
Before you both depart, get agreement on the review. They may not agree with your assessment, but get agreement on the disagreement at the least. If you do not agree, work on a plan for what you can both do to come to an agreement. Sometimes, hopefully very rarely, you can’t agree. In this case, remember that you are the manager and that they may just have to abide by your decision, no matter how much they object.
Lastly, get out there and get back to work! Its time to take what you’ve both learned from the review process and apply it to your project. Before you know it, you’ll be back in this room and you want the next conversation to be even better than this one.