Micromanage? Not Me!

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
CEO 4pm.com
Dick’s Books on Amazon

Do You Micromanage Your Team?

None of us like to think we micromanage. But it’s often a challenge not to micromanage your project team. Here are some common assumptions of PM’s who micromanage:

  1. You’re the project manager and that means you’re the expert on everything about the project…so you need to make all the decisions
  2. Your project team members want to goof off and do the least work required…so you frequently check that they are working
  3. You are the only one who cares about quality…so you thoroughly check their deliverables.

Are these assumptions correct? No, they’re dead wrong. Believing those assumptions will lead you to micromanage your team.  It’s easy to fall into that trap.  You’re the guru and can quickly solve all the problems for the team. Why take the risk of trusting the team members to make good decisions?  You can make better ones very easily. But think about the consequences. The micromanagement style hurts morale and it causes your team members to take no responsibility for anything. That will haunt you when you move up to larger projects. So it’s critical that you never micromanage your team.  Project Manager Skills Main Page

Don’t Micromanage: Lead

The better approach is being a project leader. This is very difficult for people who believe any of the assumptions listed above. Here’s how a leader differs from a micromanager. The leader holds their team members accountable for producing end results; the project deliverables. The leader clearly defines the deliverable by setting acceptance criteria.  For an experienced performer, the leader allows that team member to figure out how to produce the deliverable and helps only when needed. The leader gives this team member a lot of freedom and decision-making authority. For an inexperienced team member, the leader will sit down with them and work out the details of how to produce the deliverable. The leader will check the work more often until the team member demonstrates an understanding of their task. Then the leader gives the new team member a bit more freedom. The leader will also allow team members to take part in setting of the time and duration estimates. That encourages commitment to “hitting the numbers.”

Leading is difficult because you need to keep your hands off the team member while they’re working out their assignment. However, here are the benefits of trusting your team members:

  •  their commitment to the project and
  • their responsibility for producing good work on time.

Micromanage: An Example

Let’s look at how the sponsor spots a micromanager.

“Me, micromanage?” The PM scoffed as the executive looked over the 68-page Gantt chart with 1,279 tasks for a 3-week project.

The executive ran a finger down the column of task durations. “Yes, this is the work of a micromanager. I see a lot of one-hour meetings and three-hour tasks on this schedule. The only thing you missed was scheduling restroom breaks. People don’t like being managed this tightly. Do you estimate the work at that level of detail and then track actuals?”

The PM looked out the window hoping for a tornado or an earthquake. “Well, we are just a little behind in posting the actuals and doing our variance analysis. Some people are a little too busy to report status on 20-25 tasks each week.”

The PM smiled and said, “I guess I’m just a bear for detail. I like to really pin everything down. Anyway, our 5-hour status meetings are good for team-building. And I really know where we stand after those sessions. Best of all, we use the meetings to hone in on what we think we’re trying to achieve. Everyone’s ideas are welcome.”

“Oh really! Flexibility on the project’s objective is just great when you’re spending $2 million of the company’s money,” the executive replied sarcastically.

The PM responded, “Well maybe it’s just me, but I think that ‘delighting the customer’ and ‘providing world class service’ are a bit vague as objectives.”

The executive ignored that snide comment and said, “Exactly how far behind are you in tracking things?”

“Six months, give or take.”

The executive glared at the PM and said, “Do you realize that I spend hours talking to people and reading status reports about new functionalities, endless training courses and wondrous new processes? But I have no inkling of what your project is actually achieving for the business.”Micromanage

“Well we’re trying to detail that with…….”

This is not a pretty story. We often hear about PMs building these monstrous project plans but never using them to actually track and report project performance. Worst of all, the executives who sponsor these projects have no idea what the project will actually achieve for the organization.

Micromanage: A Solution

There is a simple solution to the micromanage problem. You can’t make up for lack of clear and measurable objectives with a long laundry list of activities. You can’t view the project plan as a “To Do” list of all the tasks the team will complete. When you micromanage at this level, it’s impossible to track progress. Instead, you must drive the project toward a business-relevant outcome. Then your project plan and work breakdown structure (WBS) become tools for planning and tracking the project’s measurable achievements. These are at a higher level than micro-tasks in a “To Do” list.

The benefits come not only in clear objectives and scope control, but also in the quality of the assignments you make to the team members. The plan and WBS tell each team member what they must deliver, not the details of how to deliver it. You let them use their knowledge, experience and creativity to decide how they will meet their objectives. You’ll have a more dedicated and committed team when you don’t micromanage them.

Read more about the problems that micromanagement creates.

Our project management courses and certifications for organizations and individuals teach you a step-by-step process that makes you a leader, not a micromanager.

Author: Dick Billows, PMP

Dick has more than 25 years of project and program management experience throughout the US and overseas. Dick was a partner in the 4th largest professional firm and a VP in a Fortune 200 company. He trained and developed 100's of project managers using his methodology. Dick is the author of 14 books, over 300 articles and director/producer of 90 short project management training videos. He and a team of 25 project managers work with client companies & students across the US and in Europe, South America, Asia and the Middle East. They have assisted over 300 organizations in improving their project performance. Books by Dick Billows, PMP are on Amazon.com