Dear PM Advisor. July 23, 2012

Dear PM Advisor, I am running a project that includes members off shore.  The Subject Matter Expert (SME) that was working with the off shore people has left the company so the one of the other SMEs is now responsible for the off-shore work getting completed.  However that SME does not have the confidence in the off-shore that the old SME did and feels he needs to redo all the work the off-shore person does.  How do you get one of your team members to have confidence in the other members?  Or is it a matter of time?  I'm not sure the project can wait until that happens.

Bad Karma in New Jersey

Dear Bad Karma,

This is why team building exercises and co-located project planning sessions are so valuable. You get the team to see each other in action and develop confidence in each other's abilities. Your problem isn't specific to off-shore workers though that helps aggravate things. Because the off-shore team members are not in the meetings to present their work, the SME is able to criticize it without a fair defense. It's your job to defend your team members. I don't believe you can directly get your SME to have confidence in the off-shore workers but you can get him to act as though he had that confidence.

Your SME may have a prejudice against the off-shore team members or he may have a legitimate gripe. Your problem is how to deal with it. Let's start with what not to do:

  1. Don't challenge him in the open forum of a team meeting. He will feel attacked and forced to justify his decisions.
  2. Don't let it go and hope that time will correct it. Few project problems go away on their own.
  3. Don't agree with the SME and have him repeat the off-shore work. Your project budget won't support this.

Instead, take the SME into an empty conference room and ask him to tell you what exactly is wrong with the quality of the work being done by the off-shore folks. Remember that any project is constrained by the following: Cost, Schedule, Scope, Quality, and Risk. Off-shore resources were assigned to a portion of the project with the assumption that they could perform this portion with a lower cost while maintaining the minimum quality standards. Those quality standards should be set on your project or may be found in your corporate policies.

If the SME can show you that the tasks being performed do not come up to those required quality standards, he has a point. Perrhaps the work does need to be revised or even redone. So reassign the work to a competent resource or have the off-shore people beef up the quality of their work before submitting it.

However, since neither you, nor the old SME had a problem with the work in the past, I suspect this is not the case. If the quality is fine, tell the SME that he is adding unnecessary cost to the project budget and perhaps even delaying it by redoing work that was already completed. Show him the negative impact his rework is having on the project's cost and schedule.

If that does not work, remind him that the final arbiter of the project quality is not him but the steering committee or sponsor or whoever is paying for this project, not him. He hay be in the position of determining if the task meets the quality expected when the project was planned but he does not have the authority to add project cost or schedule to bring it up to a higher level of quality that satisfies only him. The implied threat here is that the negative impact you showed him he is having on the project will be shown, by you, to the project sponsor at the next opportunity.

He should back off at this point. Most people are only trying to do the right thing. They forget that they are spending the corporation's money when they try to improve the project they are working on. He's probably a perfectionist at heart and takes this to work. If he doesn't back off, follow through on your threat in the next meeting. Don't throw him under the bus, simply ask the steering committee this question: Should we add x weeks and y thousands of dollars to increase task quality to z or do we maintain the cost and schedule and the original requested quality level? (Any bets on what their answer will be?) Then use their authority to get the SME to trust the off-shore resources.

The last possibility is that the SME has a deep-seated prejudice against the off-shore resources and declares it in your meeting with him. If that happens, it's time to report him to Human Resources to give him a little free education.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

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