Micromanagement may feel necessary, but it is still an evil

MicroManagerThere was a lively discussion recently within the LinkedIn PMI Career Central group regarding the appropriateness of micromanagement.

In the pantheon of project management villians, micromanagement ranks almost as high as excessive multitasking.  Neither behaviors are particularly desirable, but sometimes, because of circumstance, we might feel forced to perform them.  It’s no wonder that the term itself has gained pejorative status – it’s rare that someone is complimented for micromanaging!

Few professional, experienced project managers commence working on a new project expecting to micromanage their team, but some feel they have to do so at some point during the project’s life.

Three common causes for project managers micromanaging are:

  1. They may not know that they are micromanaging.  This is often seen in junior project managers who have not had to delegate work activities in the past and are too used to completing work activities themselves and in their way.
  2. They might feel that the criticality of the current work package requires increased focus from themselves.  Sometimes, this can be caused by pressure being brought on the project manager from their customer, sponsor or other key stakeholders.  If the project manager is being told “you can’t let this fail” enough times, it can erode the confidence they’ve developed in their team resulting in them taking a more hands on approach.
  3. They’ve been burnt on more than one occasion.  This can often happen in functional or weak matrix organizations where team members may not feel sufficient accountability to the project or project manager.  Even if the project manager has established expectations up front and has engaged functional managers as they start encountering performance challenges, they might find that their concerns are not being addressed and expectations continue to not be met.  At this point they are faced with having to choose between playing nice and letting the project fail, or micromanaging to keep the project on track but risking relationships with the team members and with their direct managers.

Here are some suggestions on how to either prevent or cure this disease:

  • Get a buddy to keep you honest.  In the case that you don’t know that you are micromanaging, when team members or their direct managers accuse you of doing so, it helps to have a trusted peer who can review the situation with you, maybe even attend one or two of your team meetings, and provide you with their assessment.
  • Help your customer or sponsor(s) develop the same confidence in your team that you have.  Although key stakeholders may look to you as the single point of accountability for your project, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t keep them apprised of the efforts and achievements of team members.  If they insist on having you provide progress or issue details at an infinitesimal level of detail, help your team understand why this information is being requested, reinforce the message that you have confidence in their work, and work together to find a way of providing the information requested without requiring you to be breathing down your team members’ necks.
  • Ensure that your team members have bought into the success of the project to the same extent that you have.  If they don’t understand how the timeliness or quality of their work fits in to the big picture, regularly remind them of the expected project outcomes and use the analogy of the relay race team to help them understand how their work is a crucial piece of a much bigger chain.
  • Make sure that the level of control you are establishing is appropriate.  As you approach a critical milestone, frequent requests for progress and issues updates might be reasonable, but during earlier phases, weekly reporting may suffice.  Set expectations with the team up front that so long as they give you no reason not to trust them, you’ll treat them as professionals and then “walk that talk”!
  • Focus on the “what” as opposed to the “how” unless it really matters.  In most cases, producing a deliverable to acceptable quality standards is good enough.  Unless there is a business need (e.g. regulatory compliance) to follow a particular process exactly, allow your team the freedom to define their own work methods so long as the quality and timeliness objectives are met (and make sure that these were communicated up front!).
  • If you find yourself in the “once bitten, twice shy” situation, meet with the functional managers to come up with an appropriate method of addressing your concerns.  If after some time you find nothing has changed, engage your customer or sponsor(s) to escalate on your behalf using the impacts to the project’s expected outcomes if something is not done as the lever to get their support.
  • Finally, if the reason the team’s performance is making you micromanage them is due to excessive multitasking, do what you can to address the root cause, and make sure that your customer and sponsor(s) are well aware that your project will fail if the magnitude of multitasking does not decrease.

Let’s make micromanagement an unnecessary evil!




Categories: Project Management | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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