I’ve been working a project with a developer who has been particularly hard to work with.  It’s not like he’s incompetent, quite the opposite – he has a track record of success.  He also ships great products.  The problem is that he does not communicate well.  And when you’re getting down to the final days before launching a product, a project manager needs to know what’s happening so that all stakeholders – developers, marketers and customers – know what’s going on.  Miscommunication impedes this process.

I will admit that I have been complaining about this developer.  I wish he were better at letting me know what he’s working on.  I wish he wouldn’t change parts of the product at the last minute based solely on his opinion and not on the design specs.  I wish, in sum, that he were a better team player.

Complaining is a natural part of human nature.  I’m actually not a fan of “bottling it all up,” or just letting things slide.  Sometimes, you do need to vent.

But there is a time and place for complaining, and it’s window is a lot more narrow that we usually let it run.  Once you’re done complaining, you should be done.  Then you have to commit to an action or try to change things, otherwise your complaining is for naught.  Or worse, it creates feelings of mistrust among people on the team.

I was reminded that my own complaining went a little too far when someone else on the team asked me to give it a rest.  I was angry at first, but realized he was right.  I had my time to complain, and now it was time for action.  Going any further, my complaining might cause further complaining within the team, and the whole process would spiral out of control.

So back to my developer.  He can be difficult to work with, but we’re going to ship a product very soon.  It’s a good product that we’re both proud of.  I’ve had to make compromises, but so has he.  In a post mortem, we should talk about the hiccups in this current round of development.  That will help surface these mistakes so that both of us can learn from them.  We can air out our frustrations and move on to new projects with a clearer understanding of our role on the team.  And isn’t that, ultimately, what being a team player is all about?

-Deborah Fike

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