10 Project Manager Traits – 8 – The Procrastinator

8 - The Procrastinator

Description

The project is complete, amendments have been carried out, user feed back has been obtained, but somehow the project does not go live. The procrastinator always finds a reason for further delays.

The intention

Don’t press the button!

The Good

It is important that the project works and, if a delay is legitimate, then it makes sense to delay the push of the button until the project is ready to go “live”. 

The Bad

The procrastinator project manager or boss is worried but cannot express their concern. They have had a great idea but now it means testing it in the real world. Once it is out there then it is harder to withdraw it. These concerns could be well founded, in which case more research and feedback may allay the fears but sometimes there is no way of knowing if the project works until it is put to the test. 

The Story

I created a system in partnership with a client, it was a sophisticated marketing tool connecting precisely defined marketing material with customer profiles based on the very latest downloaded data. There were to modes of operation – spam or targeted e-mails. The targeted version matched a product with a specific client type based on time sensitive data. We are now used to having adds pop up on LinkedIn and facebook after visiting a non-related web site – this system served this function before facebook had really taken off. At the time if felt very intrusive and “big brotherish”. Now we take it for granted. It also had a campaign feature where the prospective client would be fed a series of emails over a period of days building a story of the services on offer.

When the system was ready the client never quite used the targeted version and so the real benefit and head start we had over the competition was never put to use. The fear was that the prospective clients would be alienated by the degree of perceived intrusion and insider knowledge even though the data was in the public domain. The button never got pressed.

Remedial action

With a custom solution the idea is that nothing like it exists, making it go live is exposing yourself to criticism and judgement. There is no avoiding it and no matter how hard you work you will always be criticised. It goes with the territory of the new. My clients are used to the exposure of their own work and can counter any criticism or objections thanks to their expertise. But when they involve me then they are being judged by the work I have done. This is unfamiliar territory and requires one further step of “letting go”.

Where procrastination is discovered, explore with the manager the reasons why the project should not go ahead. Use past experience to run through all the the possible reasons why a project of this type might want to be delayed. R remember that this may expose a fundamental vulnerability or sensitivity within the manager or company. Do this in a one to one meeting and tread lightly.

10 Project Manager Traits – 7 – Saboteur

7 - Saboteur

Description

A saboteur has been handed, or is involved in, a project that they dislike or 

– they feel it is beneath them, or 

– they do not understand it or 

– they have bad intentions for the company. 

What happens in each of these cases is that the manager redirects the project towards another purpose either in direct conflict with the original purpose or a purpose which they consider to be better. The key element is that it has not been pre-agreed with the boss.

The intention

I know better or 

I need to hide my in-abilities or 

They will suffer!

The Good

The only good option here is where it just so happens that the saboteur project manager does know better than the boss, they proceed with the project without being stopped and when complete the boss sees that they were right all along. This is a very high risk strategy. 

The Bad

With a saboteur, the fall out can be widespread. If you are involved with a person who you suspect is running this agenda you need to alert the boss as soon as you can be confident of your assessment. If you do not, and the conflicting agenda is eventually exposed, it will be assumed that you agreed to be a part of it and you will be equally held accountable for it.

The Story

I saw this situation arise with one client where a new recruit was brought in to complete a recently started project. The company was growing fast and the boss needed to be managing other parts of the business. The new recruit reviewed the brief and decided that he knew better and redirected the work to meet his perception of what should be created. Thinking that this new agenda had been approved by the boss I complied with the new instructions. When the boss found out that he system had gone down a new path which he did not like,he sacked the project manager and I was instructed to bin all the work and return to the original brief. Since that was what was in the contract that is what I was compelled to do.

Remedial action

Remember, the project manager can only be labelled a saboteur if they are not revealing their agenda to the full team. 

If you are working on a project and a new project manager takes over you need to review the entire brief with them. If they propose to take the project in a new direction you need to ensure that the previous project manager and the boss are made aware of the proposed changes and that the changes get signed off. If there is a contract, the old one needs to be cancelled and a new one created. You cannot allow yourself to be fobbed off with the “too busy” block. You also need to review the timeline and the budget as these will have changed substantially.

If you decide to continue without these new instructions being agreed you are likely to suffer a financial loss and a loss to your reputation.

10 Project Manager Traits – 6 – Specialist

6 - Specialist

Description

A specialist is highly skilled in their aspect of a proposed project. They may have been asked to oversee a large project of which their department will be the major user, but other departments will also benefit from and therefore need to be involved.

However it soon becomes clear that they are less than interested in the parts that do not directly affect them. They concentrate all their attention on their own elements and the other sections get ignored. It can be that they spend enough attention on the part of the project that does not directly concern to them but is needed in order for them to be able to perform their duties.

This results in a highly developed core but with withered extremities.

The intention

What do I need?

The Good

A specialist project manger is likely to be very precise in what they need for their area. They will have thought it through and know what works and what does not. They will have a clear idea on what needs to happen before they get involved but little about what happens after they have done their part. It is likely, but not certain, that their part will be one of the best parts of the total design.

The Bad

If the specialist is the project manager for the whole system then it will not work. The part that they care about will be excellent but, as they have not allowed for the needs of others to be addressed, these other parts will most likely be deficient or not even addressed. Since this is the case the project will most likely not be used or will be seen as a failure by the others users/departments and rightly so.

The Story

In my experience in software development this happens most often when the accounts department are the project managers. Sorry – but that has been the case in at least three projects. The accounts department sometimes believe that they know about everything that goes on in a business. But there is, of course, a lot that happens that does not relate to the movement of money.

In one case, a lot of time was spent getting the data arriving in the accounts department to be accurate, timely and ensuring that the producer of the data could be clearly identified. This meant that if the data was wrong the accounts department knew who to seek out. 

They had little or no interest in how the income was generated and very jealous and questioning of any expenditure. Accounts departments are usually very busy and so they had very little interest in knowing more. They were very happy with the system but the sales, marketing and fulfilment departments wondered why the system existed as they were not getting much benefit from it. When the project manager was replaced with another from one of the other departments the same was repeated in their area of expertise.

Remedial action

Specialists are gold dust. As I have mentioned, they are most likely to know immediately if an idea is good or bad and they know if the idea, once implemented, will be used or  just be “fluff”. However, they will only know one aspect of the business and so they cannot be allowed to be the lead project manager. There is need for a generalist to project manage a number of specialists, each of which can contribute ideas for their area of the project and, essentially, the interface between their area and the preceding steps and consequential steps.

If you have a specialist in charge of a project, and their skill set covers only one aspect of the project, you need to find a new lead. The lead project manager needs to understand the purpose of the project and make use of the refined knowledge of a specialist from each department involved with the project. 

10 Project Manager Traits – 4 – Perfectionist

4 - Perfectionist

Description

Perfectionists will be heard saying:

“Nothing is complete until every aspect is just right.” 

 “We cannot move forward until it is flawless.” 

“Give in one more go”

Getting a project to be functional, great looking, intuitive but within a budget and within time constraints, means that it will not be perfect.

If time constraints and budget were not an issue there would still be a moment in time where removing any more flaws would be so expensive for the marginal gain that everyone, even the perfectionist, calls it quits. 

The issue is: when is the right time to compromise and when to push for a better result?

The intention

This has to be perfect

The Good

If a project is full of bugs the users will either reject it or the functionality will not provide the benefits that were described in the brief. The project does need to achieve the objectives of the brief and this person will make sure that happens.

The Bad

A determined perfectionist is a major obstruction to progress. If your project is to get a crew to the moon and back safely then there is no option but to get things to be as near to perfect as is humanly possible. 

If the objective is less sensitive, then there needs to be level of perfectionism that allows for progress, for refinement over time and that allows concepts to get ironed out. 

If the perfectionist stops a project moving forward until all aspects of the first stage are perfect then there is a risk that later stages undo this hard won perfection. As each stage is created there can be impacts on previous stages and so with a strict perfectionist in charge a project can get into a tighter and tighter loop of change and corrections that brings the project to a standstill.

The Story

In my early days as a software developer I worked with a perfectionist. He worked for an architectural firm and the work they produced was exquisite. It could only be that way because of their attention to detail. 

In those says I also had quite a lot of attention to things being just so and together we spent hours on refining the layouts of the system being created to manage all of the administrative tasks of the company. We spend more than hours, we spent days. Then finally we were able to move onto the next stage. We then found that some new requirement had to break the carefully set up rules from the previous stage and so we went back to and reworked the layouts. This would happen with each new administrative subject. 

A second requirement was that the whole system had to be ready and it was to be implement over the whole company in one overnight procedure. So all parts had to be perfect.

We never got there. The re-workings went on for months and then it was realised that the whole company could not risk one, over night, switch-over. What if it went wrong. The cost of making all parts perfect killed the project,

Remedial action

Perfectionists are needed – they see things that others do not and they make things not only function better but look better. A full time perfectionist project manager will cause projects to overrun or get abandoned. If, however, a perfectionist is asked to contribute to a project, cast their eyes over what has been done and add their comments, then the project can be improved without grinding it to a standstill.

Plan to bring in your perfectionist to pre-set and time constrained meetings. Accept that a lot of what you have done will not meet their standards and when they leave (a kindness as they being present as you purposefully decide not to be perfect may upset them) decide which of their suggestions will be addressed and which ones you are willing to live with.

Do not let them be the ones to decide when the project is complete. It is unlikely to get there.

10 Project Manager Traits – 3 – Completers

3 - Completers

Description

Completers are concerned with wrapping projects up. Usually, completers are not very good at getting things started but they are great at coming in and sorting out a mess, getting it back on track and getting it completed. 

The intention

Get this done.

The Good

Having a completer on the team is essential to getting to he end of a project. As a project proceeds they tend to get more diffuse and with software new ideas, implementation, training and user engagement are all essential. There is a need for an attention to detail and the tracking of minutiae. This type love all that. They love making lists and ticking things off.

They often are great diplomats as any project that goes on for some time brings out the character traits of all involved and can lead to conflict. People who appeared to work well together cease to do so. This type is good at settling disputes and smoothing operations whilst keeping their eye on project completion.

The Bad

Depending on when the project is taken over by a completer they can put up considerable obstruction to any changes that become obvious and beneficial as these will lead to the delay in completion. Since the focus is on completion and not necessarily on relevance and functionality some of these desired and required changes may not be “allowed” to be implemented. This may lead to issues later when the boss asks where the desired feature is, or by the end users who indicate that they cannot do their job without the feature or function.

With an obsession to complete these types may not be “available” to consider the next project until this one has been done. This can lead to long lag times between one project and the next. 

The Story

I was in a meeting where the final version of a software project was being presented to the company and the boss asked where a belatedly added key feature was.  I replied that it had not been implemented on the instructions of the project manger, as it would have delayed the project. He was not best pleased and  there was upset by the end-users who then demonstrated just why the absence of the feature meant that continuing the presentation was pointless. 

We met again 2 weeks later when the function had been added. The delay meant that some staff who had been employed to run the system needed to be found other duties whilst the function was inserted. The costs were considerable.

Remedial action

With a strict completer, and one who is not the intended end user, it is important to have an enduser test the system and ensure that it not only meets the brief but also does what they need it to do. The brief should always be carefully constructed and reviewed but, despite that, there will be some issues that only become apparent as the project is worked on. Having an enduser try it out just makes sense. If suggestions for changes are made (and they will be as all endusers love to contribute ideas) any decision to implement or delay the suggestion should be run past the users so that the impact of the include/postpone/exclude decision can be determined. 

 

10 Project Manager Traits – 2 – Starters

2 - Starters

Description

Starter project managers have great ideas and a sense of urgency to get on with the project. They cannot wait to get started but as the project moves forward (or drags on, as they would describe it) they tend to get bored. Since they are overflowing with ideas, a new more exciting project can result in them tputting the current project on hold and for the next project to become the priority.

The intention

“Let’s get on with it.”

 Progress, movement and excitement. 

Thrill of the new, with a touch of: “I want it all now!”

The Good

Project managers of this type generate great ideas and make sure that they get started in very short time spans. They are very unlikely to spend weeks or months discussing possible projects – they already know which one they want to do next out of long list of pending ideas.

The Bad

Boredom takes hold if the project takes too long. If the project is a big one and one that will take years to create and implement then they will most likely leave after a short while leaving the boss with a problem. However, this usually is the boss and the problem is that they may well have many incomplete projects that cause them heavy financial losses and frustration with their junior staff and/or consultants. There is likely to be a history of sackings and firings of people who failed to deliver completed projects. Projects that have made it through, may well be fragmented with many half implemented concepts.

The Story

I love working with starters, I love the abundance of ideas and the sheer energy of their style but where I have failed to encourage the introduction or inclusion of junior managers I have seen the boss lose interest and get annoyed with the apparent lack of progress. It is often much harder to resist the temptation of following them down the path of the next exciting idea and much more self-discipline is required to keep everything on track.

Failing to get junior manager support or helping to keep this type on track has led to being sacked. After all, working with such a project manger, will lead to a series of incomplete, or rather, “failed” projects. All of them could have worked, they just never got done. When the totality is reviewed the Starter will be able to demonstrate that “nothing works” and they will be right.

If you succeed with getting help to ensure that both the new idea and the original idea get completed there will never be a shortage of work. 

Remedial action

The value of starters cannot be underestimated, These are the entrepreneurs overflowing with ideas. They will start things and get things moving fast. However they need a great team around them to take over when the energy wanes. The ideas are still good so the project is worth completing but they need a new project manger to step in and run it through to completion. When a project is completed there is likely to be quite a lot of fanfare as the Starter loves the success of seeing one of thier ideas come to fruition.

If there is no possibility to have another manager take over, then the project needs to be broken up into smaller steps that allow for quick results of parts of the project. This ensures that the momentum is maintained and that there are visible signs of progress.

The manager also needs to create a great evaluative method to ensure that the focus is on essential aspects of the project first. Define what is essential! Keep a log of the other ideas and when there is more time determine which of these should be worked on next.

10 Project Manager Traits – 1 – Starter Finishers

1_Starter Finishers

Description

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

Screenshot 2020-07-01 at 13.21.08

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. 

Nearly the same… … not even close.

 

screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-17-59-19

I had written a system for a client and they are now creating a new business that is nearly the same as the current one. Each businesses needs to fill a large hole with waste material, delivered to site by truck.

Same task: Fill the hole.

We met and discussed the idea at some length and there were clearly similarities. It seemed so very close.

However my task is to create a system that is optimal for the particular business the system is going to be used for.

In the first case there were hundreds of clients per year in the second 10. In the first case the business needed to manage 2-3 truck journeys per client within a few days. In the second there would be hundreds per client over several months.

In the first, the nature of the material was varied but getting it right was critical to meeting compliance. In the second the size of the clients and the size of each job were so large that compliance was as good as guaranteed.

The question was – could we re-use the current system for the second business and tweak it a bit?

We could have – but in doing so we would miss out on all the wonderful benefits of custom databases.

Here are some of the differences:

System A – Many clients/few trucks

  1. Where there are many clients there is a benefit to creating an online section to the system to allow the client to enter key data themselves – this saves a lot of time collecting data and ensures that the person who knows the data best (the client), enters it. The system can also ensure that the client is not able to return a half completed form and can guide them through the process of filling it out cutting down on errors dramatically. First time right.
  2. Since we are uncertain of what is being delivered we can stop the truck at the entry to the site and take photos of the registration plate and the contents of the truck and link this back to the delivery note. We now have a visual record of what was actually delivered when and by whom.
  3. The trucks are all run by the client – what was unknown was the nature of the material being delivered. This meant that we could train the drivers, as we knew who they were, and we could reduce the amount of on-screen hand-holding required.
  4. From a management viewpoint we were less interested in the client and more interested in the efficiency of the drivers. How many loads were they delivering per day, what was their workload like over the coming weeks, when were trucks due to be maintained- what more work could we pursue?
  5. In this case we would have many clients – each with a lower value. We would not have time to credit check each client. But some might order more that one job. We needed to be able to learn from their prior payment record.

 

System B – Few Clients/Many trucks

  1. Where there are many truck journeys being carried out there is a likelihood that the same drivers arrive on site over and over again. This means that we can put a simple system on site that allows the drivers to sign in when they arrive and complete the notification of delivery. The weighbridge could automatically fill in the weight delivered and produce a printout for the driver. The driver can then be instructed on where to deliver the waste material with an on screen map and the same map can appear on the printed delivery confirmation. This removed the need for any paperwork and resulted in instant feedback to head office and fewer drivers out on site.
  2. In this case we had little interest in the driver’s performance – they were not our drivers. What we were interested in was the remaining work to be carried out for each client, how many trucks had arrived on site during the last week and therefore how many were likely to arrive during the coming week, we could then predict when the work for the client would be completed. We could also asses how busy the site was going to be over the coming months and when we needed to start scheduling in the 11th and 12th client.
  3. In this case we had the potential of a single client running 10 trucks to site each day and even with weekly invoicing, the 30 day payment terms meant that if a client was late paying the impact and credit risk could be significant. We needed more controls over payments and a way of stopping new deliveries if the credit limit was being exceeded or likely to be exceeded.
  4. The client would want a complete record of what deliveries were made to site and we could attach this to the emailed invoice – including the drivers signature.
  5. The accounts department had little to check as all the data had effectively been pre-verified – they would just need to trigger the invoice process and within seconds emails, with the invoices attached, would be sent out to each client.

These were just some of the considerations, and as they kept accumulating,  the decision was taken to create a new bespoke system for the second business. The cost saving to the client would be in the tens of thousands per year.

 

What would you do?

Over To YouI was reviewing the next step of a system with a client today and he was asking how he could delegate more responsibility to his site managers.

We had already created a system that allowed the site managers to source their own materials and any savings they made contributed to their profit share. They were very happy with this and profits have already started to increase. Now we were looking at how the labour could be better managed.

The current system indicates how the construction project has been costed. What we will now do is give the site manager access to this section and allow them to work out how best to use their workers on a day to day basis.

They have a clear brief on what needs to be done and how the boss thought that might be achieved. They will now be able to re-allocate staff and work out, before the work starts, how by moving staff around they can save time and use their resources better. The cheapest, but best, candidate for the job. If they are able to produce the same or a better result but at a lower cost, everyone benefits. All of this on an iPad on site.

The boss, back in his office, is able to oversee what is being planned and step in if needed, at the same time he can learn from the insights of the site managers about how to improve his estimates on the next job.

If the revised plan goes against them, the site managers learn why the original plan was as it was and still have the power to continuously challenge and improve it.

As a result of the site manager allocating the job “Scaffolder” to “Bob”, the human resources manager is able to have a clearer idea and what sort of work each staff member is being asked to do. This makes is clearer what gaps they have in their training and skill range within the company. She is also able to better forecast how busy each staff member is going to be over the coming weeks and months.

This next stage is going to offer significant insights, increased profits and help grow the company.