10 Project Manager Traits – 1 – Starter Finishers

1_Starter Finishers


The focus of Starter Finishers  is continuous, a project is started and carried through to completion. Little or no attention is paid to distractions. 

The intention

Get the job done on time and on budget. Demonstrate how efficient I am.

The Good

A project run by this person will be started and run through to completion. They will ensure that it is created according to the brief and usually have it done on time.

The Bad

Being this focussed means that it is hard for the project to adapt to changing circumstances and to new data. Resistance to change can mean that the project, whilst meeting the original brief, is not fit for purpose as that purpose gets refined. The manager may pass over brilliant additions or modifications which could dramatically affect the outcome. The project may need updating almost immediately (where this is an option) and maybe even before the project can be put to use, causing an inadvertent delay.

A second issue is that project manager of this type tends to be so focussed on the current project they are unwilling, or unable, to look at (or look for) the next project to move onto once this one is over. This can lead to long lag times between the end of one project and the next. It requires either that the boss ensures that the next project is lined up and ready or ideally the project manger books in time to find and prepare the next project as part of the current project timetable so that the lag time is avoided.

The Story

I have seen this happen where the project manager is not the boss and where they are not going to be the ultimate user of the system being created. By blocking out feedback from the users the system matched the brief but failed when put to use. Further work needed to be carried out to adapt to the actual user’s needs. This resulted in brilliant staff members leaving and costing thousands in fresh recruitment and training costs.

I have also seen the consequences of this trait where the project manager was also the end user but was so determined not to stray from the brief that all suggestions where logged with the idea that they would be introduced later. This effectively sabotaged the system. The boss, knowing that their staff member was good at completing projects was not prepared for this second further period of development and this caused their plans to be delayed when the system failed to function as needed on the completion date. In this case the boss needed to delay other projects and divert funds to get this one done.

It can be very costly to finish a project that matched the brief but fails to meet the requirements. It may well be that the budget is spent and there are no additional funds for changes at this late stage. This can result in all of the investment being lost or the system being put on ice. When it is revived the business model will have evolved and more work is required to bring it up to date.

Remedial action

Discovering or knowing that the project manager has the trait of being a starter finisher, and where this is not the boss, it is important to bring the issue to the boss’ attention and spell out what might occur if the controls are not eased slightly. It may be necessary to build into the brief a number of project reviews that not only track progress but review suggestions for changes to establish their worth. If the project manager is not the boss then the boss needs to be the person who chairs this meeting. 

If the boss is the project manager then they need to bring on board one of the end users to provide feedback and insight on what might need to be changed or adapted.

10 Project Manager Traits

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I love data and I love the accumulation and processing of data in the pursuit of insights and maybe even truth. I love systems that categorise data and reveal structure that is not always obvious. With a small amount of data, or lots of data but collected over a very short period of time it is hard to decipher what is going on. However, as time spans lengthen and more data is available, it becomes possible to see patterns.

A subject that I have always been interested in is “types of people” or “working styles” for example the Myers-Briggs system, created by Katherine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers, and by the DISC system first put forward by William Moulton Marston in the first half for the 20th Century. Both systems  have undergone progressive refinements ever since. These studies are, to this day, described as “Pseudo Science” by Wikipedia and yet they are used by small and large companies to identify qualities of job applicants and existing staff to establish how best to create functioning teams to work on projects.

Over the last 35 years I have worked on 10 years worth of Architectural projects and 25 years of database projects. Architectural projects can last for years and some of the database systems I have created have run for as long as 25 years giving ample time top observe the characters of the people involved. During that time I have worked closely with my clients to produce the desired project outcomes and as a result of this I have accumulated some insights into the working styles of my client project managers and their bosses.

Whilst the Myers-Briggs and DISC systems are useful I have not asked my clients to run tests to find out what their type is based on these systems, though this would be a great idea! 

Instead, in reviewing my engagement with my clients, I have extracted some types of my own. These types, with a lot more study, could most certainly be assigned a category from the above systems but I hope mine offer some more immediate and accessible insights.

Note that, of course, none of the types is either “right” or “wrong”, but they do affect the outcome of a project and knowing what types are involved in the execution of a project helps increase the chances of a project being completed successfully. Not knowing which types are involved and not taking remedial action can lead to unnecessary costs, delays and even the abandonment of the project.

So over a series of 10 posts, and one concluding post, are my types. Each type includes a description of what I have found the positive and negative impacts to be, what the intentions of each type are and what remedial action I suggest be taken to increase the chances of success of any type of project. Remember that the types apply to all the members of a team and all are influencing the outcome, this includes you/me! The list of types is of course incomplete but 10 will suffice for now!

This is written from the viewpoint of a consultant but is still valid for projects run in house. 

My intention in offering up this series of 10 “types” is it to help project managers avoid some of the losses incurred by acknowledging these traits and exploiting their virtues and avoiding their vices.