Nine Destructive Project Manager Behaviours: Part 8 of 9

This is the second last article in the destructive project manager behaviour series. For three weeks now I’ve been bringing you my thoughts on different behaviours a project manager can exhibit that will damage their projects. My purpose in this endeavour has been to raise awareness of individual behaviours (that aren’t right or wrong, by the way) that get in the way of our productivity. Most of us exhibit some or all of these traits from time to time. But it’s important for us to keep tabs on our responses to stimuli in our respective environments and nip those behaviours that could hurt our projects in the bud.

It’s been an interesting go, collecting these pieces here, and I’d be very interested to hear what you think of them in the comments section below.

And now I bring you…

Bad Behaviour: The Anticipator

Image courtesy of skipnclick on Flickr.

8. The Anticipator.

Anticipators are very forward thinking. They can see impacts of actions and decisions that others can’t. In a project management capacity, this trait makes them incredibly valuable. Unfortunately for them, their communication skills are often weak.

Anticipators aren’t great at communicating what they see. They often assume that since something is clear and visible to them, it must be clear and visible to everyone else. As a result, Anticipators can be assumptive (not telling others what they see), or miscommunicate (either creating panic or not creating enough interest).

This trait makes Anticipators feel very much isolated with their visions.

To give a nod to a recent article by Ty Kiisel of AtTask software, I’m going to dust off my own Greek Myth text. Cassandra was a mortal, beloved of the god Apollo. Because of her beauty, Apollo granted her the gift of prophecy: she could see into the future. Unfortunately Cassandra didn’t return his love (you’d think the mortals would learn not to upset the gods), so instead of taking his gift back, he cursed her such that whenever she spoke of her predictions, nobody would believe her. When Troy fell in exactly the same manner as her vision, she went insane because nobody had listened.

Destruct-O-Meter Level 2: ConcerningBummer for Cassandra.

Consequences:

The project manager needs to be able to look into the future. It’s an incredibly valuable skill to look beyond a seemingly small, inconsequential decision, through the chain reaction of events that decision will trigger, to the results.

But the project manager can’t stop there. Whatever the PM sees, it’s imperative he or she be able to effectively communicate that vision to the project team. If they can’t or don’t, there will be nothing to stem the tide of events, and the consequences will come to pass. It’s unfortunate, but only the person with sight is in a position to take action.

Here’s a few possible ways the Anticipator can deliver their messages of “the future” and the likely responses from other team members who don’t yet see things the way the PM does:

Message Delivery Message Receipt
Alarmist Too many of these and the recipients will start to think of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf
Lukewarm Not enough emphasis placed on the seriousness of the consequences and nobody’s likely to do anything
Cautionary Halfway in between but still may not get action unless a plan is put on the table. It’s one thing to raise an issue, it’s another to ask for help to stem it.

Prevention:

While Cassandra may have had a curse placed on her, most of us project managers aren’t that cool (although you could argue that the very fact we can see what’s coming is a curse in itself). In addition to their powers of foresight, Anticipators need to develop effective communication and influencing skills.

Stakeholders, team members and everyone else needs to be able to trust the project manager’s visions. That’s a product of trust in the project manager. Blowing into a meeting room screaming “the sky is falling” isn’t likely to get you a lot of positive attention on the important issues.

Constant, regular communication is a much more effective way of getting focus on the right details, and it also allows others to accompany you on your visions. As you start to assemble the pieces yourself, others get to watch you do it, and they’re never far away. So when you reach your conclusions, people saw how they evolved, They’ll be far less likely to presume you just jumped to them.

Stakeholders need to see project managers regularly raising issues before they’re likely to begin to trust that the PM’s issues are valid. That’s not to say the PM should raise each and every single issue, but I have yet to see a project where I don’t go a week without needing a stakeholder’s help on something. My policy in my status reports is to raise the top three issues each week and present those. If my people don’t report three relevant issues to me each week I go looking, because I don’t believe them.

Here are some resources for both clear communications and influencing skills that may help an Anticipator get the help they need to overcome an issue to which they see the consequences.

Clear Communications Resources Influencing Skills Resources

The last thing the Anticipator needs is the ability to truthfully say, “I’ve communicated the message and I’ve done the best I can.” At that point my friend, you need to realize that you’re only one man or woman–you cannot own the future by yourself.

Keep that in mind, and what happened to Cassandra doesn’t have to happen to you.

Next (and last) up: The Reluctant Puppet

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I’m a professor of project management at the college where I work. My students continually amaze me with their insights, passion and all-around awesomeness. I figure they deserve access to more answers than I can give them by myself. This site is for them.
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  • Ty Kiisel

    Great post Geoff! Gotta love those Greeks, they certainly weren't “yes men/women.”

  • steelray

    I love this part – “They often assume that since something is clear and visible to them, it must be clear and visible to everyone else.” I know how frustrating it is to be the anticipator and not be very articulate about it. And I know what it feels like to be on the other end too! I never thought of this as “creating panic” but looking back I totally get it. Great point.

  • I know rite! Hrm. I think maybe next week I'll make a little apple with a tag that says “to the fairest” and throw it into the fray. It's not like I'm known for sowing Discord or anything. Bwahahahaha!

  • Hi, Laura! Thanks so much for the comment! It's incredibly frustrating when you can see something, try to communicate it, and get a roomful of blank stares back at you. My best answer to it is, just constant, constant incremental discussions with your stakeholders and the people on your team. If people can't or won't see things your way, you can't make them, but you can improve the odds considerably.

    If you've developed trust to a point where your stakeholders say, “she's flapping her arms and yelling about something I don't have a clue what it is, but she's always been right before so give her what she wants”….you win!

    (As you can see I don't really care how or why I get my way…just as long as I get it.) LOL

  • steelray

    You're right. Eventually a PM can pick out the one (or two) trustworthy and dependable and pretty smart stakeholders in that room. Those are the go-to people. Chances are, everybody else in the room likes, respects and trusts them too. If you can get those guys to back your play, eventually everything gets on track. Great series – loved every one of them!

    Laura Susan Bamberg

    Simply Smarter Project Management!
    Global Sales Administrator
    Steelray Software
    +1 404 806 0160 x1
    laura.bamberg@steelray.com
    http://www.steelray.com

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  • Laura I'm so glad you've enjoyed the story, and I've loved your comments all the way through! Thanks so much for your participation…you've been super awesome!!!!! *BIG HUGZ*

  • steelray

    Aw, Geoff, you're the best! I love reading your posts. Funny AND informative. Nobody snoozing when it's your writing!

    Laura Bamberg

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