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Poison People in the Office

February 6, 2011

This article was written by Sid Adelman and Larissa Moss.  I would recommend that you don’t be one of these, work for one of these or if you know one, stay away from them.  It’s still work, but enjoying it has a lot to do with those you interact with.

One of the biggest risks to any project manager is having people on the team with the wrong attitude, bad work habits or incompatible skills. Do not accept them on your team, even temporarily – a temporary assignment may outlast your tenure, and is likely to, if you accept these people. Your job is not to rehabilitate, but to implement your project. Have  a clear understanding with your boss of what your job really is. Your boss will only be successful when you are successful, so your boss should support your efforts.

The Poison People are not just dead wood, they infect the entire team, hurting morale, and hurting work habits. They will require time from both you and the other team members to deal with them, their problems and their incompetence. Good workers do not want to be on the same team with these people.
1.      Retired-on-the-job Rudy – Rudy may, in fact, be close to retirement or just a non-performer. Whatever skills he once had (autocoder and board wiring) are either rusty or of little use on your project.
2.      Bad Luck Bob – Bob has never worked on a project that has been successful. Disaster seems to follow him wherever he goes. His bad luck will undoubtedly rub off on the project.
3.      Obstructionist Orville – Orville finds fault with every approach suggested and will argue every minor point that could be debated.  By the time he is finally convinced (and then not convinced but grudgingly acquiesces) the project is way behind schedule or has been cancelled.
4.      Learning Lena  – Lena believes she can take on her assignments only if she attends classes (all scheduled in resort locations) for the next six months.
5.      Researcher Russ – Russ believes that we should not move forward until we have thoroughly evaluated every tool on the market, brought each one in for extensive  evaluation and testing and visited all the reference sites.
6.      Incompetent Ernie – Ernie couldn’t find his mouse at high noon with both hands.
7.      Oldie Goldie – Goldie has been with the company since the company was founded. She knows everything and everyone. She manages to stay employed by playing the politics very well and by working the minimum time. She does manage to look busy. It doesn’t matter what you assign her, she only works on tasks she enjoys doing. She has seen many project managers come and go and is willing to take her chances that she will outlast you.
8.      Gunslinger Gus – Gus doesn’t believe in following standards, rules or anything else. Version control is an annoyance and cramps his style. He’s pretty confident of the quality of his code and so his motto is “Testing is always an option.”
9.      Water Cooler Walt – Walt loves to discuss everything with the team, whether it’s relevant to the work or not. Unfortunately, he doesn’t just do it at the water cooler, he drops into the other team members’ cubicles and wastes their time and they don’t know how to get rid of him politely or otherwise.
10.  Big Idea Bernie – Bernie has read everything – and he believes everything he reads. He knows every web site and he attends every conference. Unfortunately, he’s too busy to actually do anything productive.
11.  Internet Ida – Ida surfs the net for everything. Very little of it applies to her job. She is an internet junky and, even though she has been urged to, she has not yet joined the 12 Step Program for Internets Anonymous.
12.  Safe Stan –  Stan has some mysterious connections that protect him from ever being fired. He may be the CIO’s wife’s idiot  son (by a previous marriage) or he may have some pictures that the Board’s Chairman would not want on the front page of the Evening Bugle.
13.  Insensitive Igor – Whenever Igor opens his mouth, he manages to offend everyone, and those that seem to be the most offended are the users. You hate to bring him to meetings for you know you will have to make amends later on.
14.  Saboteur Sam – Sam hates everything and everybody. He has an ax to grind and thinks the company has done him wrong. He does his best to sabotage every project he is on.
15.  Heat-seeker Henry – Henry know no fear. He will try anything and everything, as long as it is new and technical, even if he brings down a few systems in the process.
16.  Reminiscing Rena- Rena remembers the Good Ol’ Days and she reminds you of them constantly. Nothing ever lives up to her expectations, and it takes an act of God to get her to try something new.

So, you say, you can’t get rid of these people. What to do? Establish a gulag; separate them from the productive workers. Make the separation physical as well as by tasks. Separate them from the mainstream project. Give them work to do that will keep them out of trouble, will not detract from your project and will minimize contact with the rest of the team. Give them tasks such as reviewing all the code and reporting on standards violations – a complete review is always required when anyone makes even the slightest change in their code. You might also assign them to research obscure tools that have no chance of ever being chosen, but be sure that activity does not take up the vendors’ time as well.

This article is excerpted from a book titled Data Warehouse Project Management.

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