10 Project Manager Traits – 11 – Conclusion

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Conclusion

When I started this series I mentioned that none of the traits explored were either right or wrong. It is clear that they all have their benefits and can have serious negative consequences if not understood and managed. It is obvious that this list is incomplete.  It is also true that no one has just one of these traits and indeed we do display each of them under different circumstances. 

By understanding that these traits exist and can have beneficial or deleterious effects on the outcome of the project, it helps to understand when the trait should be purposefully employed and when it would be wise to quell the need to engage it.

There are key roles and key moments in the life of a project where the traits described above can benefit the outcome.

Initiation

Starters are an obvious positive influence in the creation of a new project. They can see the need for a “thing” to be created and they have enough energy to overcome inertia and bring a project to life.

Obfuscators can help expand ideas producing both wise and slightly mad ideas from which a core theme can be identified and honed in on.

Starter Finishers can help refine the idea and from their knowledge of project delivery can see what ideas are just overly complex or are not essential in the early stages of design. Get them to unify the project to ensure that the goals and objectives are relevant, aligned and meet the original objectives.

Development

Specialists need to be consulted on what is essential for each aspect of the project. They will quickly identify what is really needed, what has been missed and what is just “fluff”

Perfectionists can identify where current systems or designs fail and could be improved.

Get the Starter Finishers to keep things moving and not let things get overly complex or bogged down in detail. 

Refinement

As the project evolves, get the Obfuscators back in to check the scope of the project  – they will have ideas that are outside of the box. Some of these ideas will be brilliant. 

Then get the Specialists back in to refocus on what is still the core of what is needed.

Deployment and Follow-up

This is the time of the Completers. They are good at picking up on lagging energy and willpower. They will produce the checklists that wrap up loose ends and sort out the snagging list until the project is done.

Some projects have a clearly defined conclusion, an end point. Some fade out. Fading out is the nature of software development. It rarely ends with a big party – it ends when the snagging list has been completed. Snagging lists can also become the start of the next project as the previous one hints at what else could be done. This is the start of a new project phase and so back to the initiation phase.

The four missing traits

Saboteur – the reason for the need to sabotage can be illuminating. There is an issue that is not in the open and this may hint at personal issues, personnel issues, at conflicts on strategic decisions and maybe even about morality. They are are worth bringing out into the open as, if they are not seen or handled, the sabotage may succeed.

Procrastinator – here the fear may be legitimate. Maybe the reason for holding back reveals a significant risk or, at the very least, a need for further training or counselling. Not handling this situation means the project will result in a loss to all parties.

Confrontation – This can range from passive aggression to outright open warfare. It will not go away. The circumstances that create the conflict need to be explored and handled. If the situation is handled just by removing one side of the conflict, it may well reappear when new team members are recruited. 

Swap outs – this is about the best use of scarce and valuable resources or the mishandling of poor resources. When this is about good people who are needed in several places at once, the goal has to be to find more people that have similar traits to the valued staff member and as a matter of urgency. Be clear what those traits are and deliberately seek them in new recruits. 

Where a staff member is under-performing then the situation will not be resolved by moving them from one location to another. The manager becomes the saboteur by not handling the personnel issue. 

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.