Managing Processes

Project Management

Success Paradigm 4:

Just as people need leadership and partners need partnerships, processes need management. However, they don’t need micromanagement!

Proper management of project processes is an art that relies heavily on leading the team, rather than micromanaging it. For too many years project managers have been forced into roles of micromanagement. They have become overly busy managing the miniscule details of their projects and less focused on that which is most important – performance of their team.

The problem we encounter almost every day is that governments, and even private companies, incorporate prescriptive, cookie-cutter management methods into their contracts, which end up forcing project managers to become micromanagers. Often, much of their time is spent producing reports and other paperwork, which has very little to do with the success of the necessary projects.

In both government and the private sector the contractual arrangements often force managers to act as watchdogs within our litigious society; in order to protect themselves and their companies, project managers must make up reams of reports that have little to do with performance. Their greatest worries are avoiding law suits. We, of course, believe this is counter-productive. It would be much better for these managers to be focused on performance and success, rather than mistrust.

The following example vividly illustrates this point:

We recently worked with a team that was involved in a government project. They knew their business well, particularly the project manager. All of them knew what it meant to be a high-performance team. In all cases where we were involved their performance was excellent.

However, on this specific project, the government quality assurance (QA) representatives did not trust this team to do the job right. They seemed intent on showing the project team who was in charge and correcting the team’s supposedly flawed understanding of project requirements. Interestingly, most of what these QA reps said was based purely on opinion.

The micromanaging tendencies and lack of trust shown by the government representatives had a significant impact on project team performance. Instead of seeing an increase in team productivity, the project saw an increase in unnecessary paperwork and meetings. Instead of having a project manager to focus on team performance, the manager was forced to micromanage the entire effort. Instead of providing innovative solutions to problems, the manager was relegated to implementing the unwise opinions of the QA reps.

In looking closely at the situation, we discovered that an interesting phenomenon had occurred. Risk gradually shifted from the shoulders of the contractor to the shoulders of the government representatives. The contractor would no longer take responsibility for product quality, delays and cost overruns. He attributed all of these problems to the government. The government was dictating quality – so he let them do quality control. They were also dictating time and cost impacts – so he let them take responsibility. He spent most of his time documenting problems created by the government representatives, rather than focusing on the performance of his team.

As a result, the project experienced difficulties with quality, significant schedule delays and large cost overruns. The irony of this mess is that the government paid for these problems in the end. Since the project manager spent so much time documenting the problems, he was able to prove that the government had removed the risk from his shoulders. Since the government reps were so busy micromanaging the project, they didn’t have documentation to refute the contractor. So the taxpayers paid a high price for lack of trust, incompetence and micromanagement.

Another quick story to illustrate the impacts of micromanagement may be appropriate. A very large corporation decided to prepare a critical manual to illustrate their products. The company had several levels of management. Two levels above the project manager there was a man with tremendous company history. He was assigned to be on the project team. He was bright, resourceful, and innovative when working by himself. However, he had one fatal flaw: he was a micromanager. He insisted that he have the final say about what went into every detail of the manual.

As the project progressed, the team found that this executive was dictatorial, intolerant, and rude. In this case the project manager and team thought they had no choice but to accept his rule. They labored for over a year. When the final product was presented to upper management, they found the writing forced, inaccurate and, at best, dull. They rejected it outright.

The project manager was called to the board room to explain. He finally had to admit that he had allowed this higher level executive to dominate the work, overshadowing the rest of the team’s contribution. The reaction of the board was simply, “You had the responsibility to inform us of this situation long before a year had passed. We did not know that this member was exercising such unwarranted control. But that doesn’t excuse this poor performance.” The project manager was held to account for the failure. He didn’t get another chance to lead a team in such critical circumstances.

These examples are two of many that show it is difficult for project teams to produce success if project managers are not focused on performance. Thus, we believe it is time to abandon the old paradigm of micromanagement and mistrust and replace it with a new paradigm involving performance-based management.

Performance-based management is different than micromanagement because it is focused on outcomes and customer satisfaction, rather than miniscule details. High performing project managers and teams understand it is their responsibility to create a bridge between their performance and the desires of the customer.

The three foundational pillars supporting this bridge must be the guides of high performing project managers and teams. High performing project managers help their teams:

  • Clearly define success
  • Plan for performance
  • Perform

They also understand that for the team to be effective, they must lead the team, using these guiding principles, not micromanage them to the point that team members want to dive off this bridge into the swirling waters below.

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