Absentee PM

October 23, 2012 by
Filed under: Leadership, People, Project management 

I was talking to a friend the other day, listening intently as he described a project he’s currently involved with that is, politely, challenged. He was lamenting about a recent meeting where the project manager had spent a couple of hours telling the group what they needed to do on the project, then in exasperation, ended the session with “I don’t care how you get it done, just get it done!”

While the previous post was talking to the team, here I’m pointing the finger directly at the project manager on too many projects.

I poked around a bit more about the project. Apparently there has been more than one delay as the project manager got pulled away to focus on other things – delays because the PM had some vital information that nobody else on the team had, information being held close to the chest. I’ve seen that sort of thing before, a situation where the project lives by the team, or dies by the project manager.

The projects die more often than they should. As many in other anecdotes like this, this project manager has a PMP certification: these things can be valuable, but they are hardly sufficient.

But that’s not the thrust of the story today, project managers can be absentee with or without particular letters after their name.

There’s an old Dilbert cartoon that I use sometimes in training – so old that it’s hand-drawn, not done on a Wacom tablet like it is these days. The Pointy-Haired Boss suggests that he’s put together estimates for Dilbert, and he started by “assuming that anything he doesn’t really understand is easy to do.” Dilbert gets 6 minutes to put together a client-server architecture for their world-wide operations. You may have had similar experiences, if not so extreme.

When a project manager has too many distractions, whether they be other projects being wrangled at the same time or any other demands on his or her time, the need to lean on the team, to trust the team, and to ensure the team is equipped with the knowledge to get the job done becomes all that more important. While I don’t think there is ever a time when these things are not important, if a project isn’t handled n this manner when you won’t be there all the time, you can’t really expect great results.

Leveraging the strengths in the team, taking full advantage of the broad experience and perspectives, provides  a stronger base from which to solve problems and come up with elegant solutions to project challenges. In addition, collaborative, appreciative effort across the team brings a strong sense of ownership and shared responsibility for the project success. A Pointy-Haired boss won’t have many people on the team pulling for the project – a sadly recurring theme in Dilbert cartoons.

Finally, with the project manager participating as part of the team – in a collaborative sense rather than in a hierarchical, boss-like sense – the project manager gains a deeper appreciation for the effort and complexity in all the components of the project. With that knowledge, the likelihood of trying to push insane schedule expectations onto the team drops significantly.

Don’t think “you guys do whatever it takes to get it done”, think instead “let’s figure out the best way to solve these challenges together”. Everyone, particularly the project manager, needs to own the problem and the solution on projects. – JB

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