Being a project manager requires you to be the master of all trades. You need to have a handle on accountancy, while being an expert strategist, while being about to motivate a team and manage the time of many people.
No one says it is easy and it is quite often managers fall into some bad habits. Self-knowledge is key to taking control.
What Bad Project Managers Have To Work On
If you are worried that you are falling behind in your role ask yourself if you need to improve in specific areas of project management:
Bottom line, you need to know your job, and you need to know your company.
Knowing your company will allow you to draw the different strands of a project together in the most efficient way possible.
Yes, there are policies and procedures within all companies. But, then there are the ways that get things done. If you expect the different departments in an organisation to just bend to your will because you are a PM and you say it should be done – then you are going to struggle.
Work out what greases the flow of action within your institution, and then you will avoid the problems that some bad PMs face – the problem of people purposely placing obstacles in their path because they have ignored visible social protocols.
Knowing your job should go without saying, but many lousy product managers tend to be deficient in one or more of the crucial skill areas.
Project Management requires an understanding of:
- basic accountancy
- supply chain variables such as production, distribution and inventory
- quality assurance
- human resource management
- principles of risk management
- aligning project scope with business goals
A weakness in human resource management could mean that a PM under-estimates the time taken to fulfil a schedule, for instances.
Failure to adequately undertake a risk management audit could lead to foreseeable problems scuppering the progress of a project for weeks, months or causing it fail altogether.
As a project manager, you are primarily a manager of people with an end goal. The project is the team of people seeking its completion. Therefore, at the heart of project management is leadership and management of people – and this means being an effective communicator.
Project Managers need to communicate to clients and stakeholders, as well as listen to them. The same is true of the workforce tasked to deliver the project.
Bad PMs tend to fail at the first hurdle and not take the time to collaborate effectively with clients and managers. This means that the project brief is not thoroughly understood or agreed and the success criteria not explicitly defined in anyone’s minds.
Hence, when the project delivers it is a lottery as to whether stakeholders are getting what they had hoped to receive.
Bad PMs also do not ask questions about timelines, resources, budgets, potential barriers to project completion. They make assumptions, and these tend to be based on an incomplete knowledge base.
Fail to talk to stakeholders and listen to their needs is only marginally worse than failing to listen to those who are working with you on the project.
Neglecting to follow up with key personnel involved in the project to learn about any potential problems or concerns, could leave them demotivated and unproductive.
Listening to your team is how you spot the early warning signs of delay and a runaway budget. If you fail to listen, then you could allow minor issues to escalate into costly delays and ultimately the failure of the project.
All the best Project Managers are people who look to put systems and structures in place. They would have been the child at nursery who organised all the soft toys by colour and shape and coordinated the children in construction duties at the sand pit.
They love order.
On the other hand, a lousy project manager will fail to consider all the factors that might impact upon the project. Therefore, there will be elements that go undone or events that take the team by surprise.
They will also try to manage with pieces of paper and quick emails, rather than organising work through a central software tool. Due to the lack of a project management software applications, it is likely that the workflow will lack logical sequence and dependencies will not be fully explored.
Time is a significant factor in the life of a project manager. The most effective use of time will set the good and the bad manager apart.
Effective planning at the start and as the planning horizon is approaching will avoid the repetition of tasks and the completion of activities that serve no purpose towards the end goal.
Bad time management means missed deadlines that result in an overrun on the budget and an unhappy client.
A place to begin to look to assess if you are a good or bad product manager of time is your allocation of overtime. If, at crucial points that should have been predicted, you depend on overtime, then you have not planned time well.
Vision and Small Detail
The very best project managers have a view of the whole project – the vision. They also have a handle on the smallest detail – which allows the execution of the vision.
Mediocre project managers tend to have one or the other of these crucial facets.
PMs who have a great vision of the whole project can in some instances communicate this well enough to a team of people who execute the plan for them – this relies on the people in the team being highly experienced and independent decision makers who can direct the project on the ground level.
Even if the team is experienced and outstanding in their roles, the PM who ignores small details tends to be plagued by firefighting foreseeable and avoidable problems.
The project manager who revels in the small detail but cannot fully envision the outcome tends towards micromanagement.
This means that they love the individual tasks of completing a project but do not possess the overall vision to draw this together into a coherent workflow.
In such cases projects tend to be successful through serendipity, rather than design, or because an executive or other stakeholder is highly involved asking pertinent questions that direct the weekly activity of the small detail PM.
You must take ownership of a project to be an effective PM. If you are one of those project managers who set up accountability chains just so none of the flying faeces hits you, then you are not using your time for what it is meant to be used for.
If you are a project manager, then you are fully committed to making the project a success, and any failure to do so should be personal to you as an individual.
Those managers who lack interest and lack commitment tend to fail to keep a close eye on the progress of the project and therefore fail to notice warning signs.
It means that the project timeline may derail due to a lack of intervention. A lack of engagement also tends to indicate a lack of contingency planning or a lack of desire to come up with creative solutions to difficult problems.
If you didn’t go to work to do paperwork, then you shouldn’t have become a project manager.
The role of a project manager is to document things. You will be expected to come up with schedules, and reports, and scope changes, and project charters.
You will learn to love a Gantt chart and a RAID chart, and you will be obsessed with risk assessments. If you don’t want to push paper around – or the mouse on your favourite project management software – then you are going to be a seriously bad project manager.
A bad project manager is going to have a bad day at work. But, you must love working with people, love working to processes and structures, love answering the question “but why?”
If you hate any of these facets of your job, then you are going to be a nightmare.
Why? Because, rather than help people get the job done you are going to get in their way. You will create a dangerous atmosphere, built on the fear of failure and likely be that person who takes all the glory if it goes well.
How will you tell if you are turning into this vision of a bad project manager? Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you find yourself getting angry every day?
- Do you purposely make yourself unavailable because you are too busy or don’t want to deal with the problems of others?
- Do you find yourself more interested in the jobs others are meant to be doing, micromanaging their efforts rather than the efforts of the whole team?
- Do you take responsibility for the wins and share out the blame for the losses?
- Do you go quietly in meetings when the risks and obstacles come up, rather than being front and centre with creative solutions?
- Do you ignore problems?
If you are an ignorer of problems, then you probably should have stopped reading this article after the first paragraph.
What makes a bad project manager is not the lack of education or experience, but the inability to be a leader and the lack of vision.
However, you have got this far, meaning you are likely committed to doing well – and now at least you know how not to fail!