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Effective Nagging: The Fine Art of Project Management
By Kim Wasson

n my professional life I’ve done a whole lot of project management, sometimes as a project/program manager and sometimes when I was supposed to be doing something else (according to my title). Almost no one outside the groups in which I worked really understood what that meant. Now I’m a consultant specializing in project and program management; more than ever I get the question ‘so what exactly do you do?’.

So what exactly does a project manager do?

Now that I’m making a living with program and project management in my charter the question comes from all over – friends, business associates, prospective clients. By this time I have plenty of explanations and examples I can pull out of my hat to try to make it clear that I actually do have real job. I realized the other day, though, that it all comes down to this: I nag people for a living. (My mother is so proud.)

Sure there are a lot of components to being a successful project or program manager. Risk analysis, leadership, reporting, planning, understanding requirements… but to make it all work I have to nag. A lot. All the time.

Nagging… it really is part of the job

When I was a young whippersnapper of a project manager this used to annoy me immensely. I had a lot of things to do, busy busy busy – why couldn’t everyone just do what they were supposed to do? It took years to understand that I was the one with the big picture in my head of the priorities and how things fit together and what needed to be done next. (Truly, who but the project manager ever really reads a project plan except to look for their names and for the begin/end dates of major milestones? It’s a sad fact but one that must be faced.)

The next major hurdle then was learning to nag in a way that got people to actually respond with answers. First there was the problem of not wanting to annoy people (I’ve gotten over that) so I didn’t ask often enough. Once I started asking more often, usually via email because that was most convenient, because I often work with distributed teams, and to be totally honest because I didn’t have to confront anyone, I found I was fading into the noise and didn’t get any answers until I got really pushy. No one was very happy with that method (otherwise known as please… please… please… please… please… please..OK, now I’m out of time, GIVE ME AN ANSWER RIGHT NOW).

The real secret of nagging

Luckily, a friend taught me the secret of successful nagging (by using it on me). I now start with an email, then follow up in person or on the phone or Skype. I’m nice but I nag with increasing frequency. Once someone knows that I will in fact call and very pleasantly ask how they’re doing with something – every day if I need to – they tend to put me at the top of their list as an avoidance maneuver. They can’t really get angry because I’m friendly and conversational, but I am relentless.

And my piece de resistance of nagging – create an agenda item for the project meeting asking for any updates I haven’t gotten offline. Once again I’m polite and pleasant and very official without naming names (giving people one last chance to get me what I need without having to do it in a meeting), then businesslike and prepared in the meeting.

Who knew nagging was an art? I’d better wrap this up, I have some people I need to… um… talk to.

Kim Wasson, CEO of IvyBay Consulting LLC, has over 30 years of experience in software development, project/program management, process engineering, and coaching. She held positions from individual contributor to VP level before starting her consulting business ten years ago. Kim has worked across industries with companies of all sizes as well as individuals and has a deep knowledge of tools and techniques plus the experience to combine them for practical, tailored solutions for her clients.

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