Nine Destructive Project Manager Behaviours: Part 2 of 9

Nine Destructive Project Manager Behaviours: Part 2 of 9

Welcome to part two of my series on destructive project manager behaviours. Last time we looked at abdication of responsibility. I called a manager who demonstrated this “The Sack“, because they let themselves be carried along by others on their project. I rated the behaviour as “Dangerous”: a Sack basically cuts the head off his or her project, but because others invariably come to the rescue, collateral damage of this behaviour is lessened.

And now, part two of nine:

2. The Magpie.

Bad Behaviours: The Magpie

Image courtesy of kookr on Flickr.

The Magpie is a very nervous manager, with an extremely limited attention span. Always flitting from one thing to another, his or her progress tends to be slow. Appearing very disorganized, Magpies are often shunned by stakeholders and team members who’d rather not start a discussion only to feel cast to the gutter the moment something sparkly appears within visual range.

Many Magpies would claim they’re “multitasking” when they suddenly soar away from something that has their attention. It’s not true. “Multitasking” implies the ability to manage more than one task at the same time. Magpies don’t manage the tasks they leave behind; they abandon them.


Magpies get a surprising amount of work done, but the momentum of their projects is often badly impaired. This is because no one thing ever really gets the PM’s focus for more than a short time. Lots of work gets started, and then stops when the Magpie flies away. When he or she returns, the PM has to get back in the headspace of where they were when they abandoned the work. Then they slowly bring themselves back up to speed on aspects of the work they may have forgotten, and start to make progress again. Whereas learning curves under typical projects may have a gradually quickening incline to the right, a Magpie’s learning curve tends to look like a long string of W’s on a shallow slope.

I rated Magpies “Threatening” on the destructiveness scale. Because they’re hard-workers, their projects will invariably get done. Whether the projects are on-time or not is another story. Project quality is likely to suffer under a Magpie’s care, as reviews invariably need to be curtailed (or even eliminated) to make the project end date. People who depend on the Magpie for timely decisions often find themselves very frustrated.

Destruct-O-Meter Level 3: ThreateningPrevention:

It’s easy to dismiss Magpies as lousy project managers, because so many people get exasperated working with them. But due to their high energy and industrious nature, many Magpies can be really successful. That being said, these PMs have some personal challenges they need to be aware of and plan against before they can be effective.

Magpies need to be organized more so than other kinds of project managers. Their natural tendency to flit away from something that has their attention (and leave it unresolved) means important administrative tasks fall by the wayside. Magpies benefit greatly from administrative assistants. Managing a calendar, booking resources, keeping an environment tidy and organized…these things come easily to many people. They’re capable of integrating these tasks into their day-to-day work routines, even though the work may not be convenient or fun. Magpies, on the other hand, with all their flitting around, often forget to take care of these tasks and in so doing create problems for others.

Incidentally, many people seem to believe that if someone has to hire an assistant, they must be hopelessly incompetent. They’re wrong. A manager needs what a manager needs.

For project managers with low clout, however, hiring an administrative assistant is often not an option (although if it will overcome a known obstacle, I think it makes good sense to include provisions for one early on in the project). These PMs need to find less obvious ways to overcome Magpie behaviour.

The first thing I’d advocate is personal time-boxing. Basically, you’re going to plan out your day, each morning, and assign appropriate time frames to tasks you know you have to get done. You’re going to stick to that schedule and if someone interrupts you, you’re to ask them to come back later when you’re free. Time-boxing requires discipline to adhere to, and that can be challenging for a Magpie.

So as a sister task to accompany personal time-boxing, I’m going to recommend…(don’t laugh)…yoga. I’m not advocating changing your philosophies; I’m talking about purely physical exercise and meditation. Specifically, “ashtanga yoga” is used to increase strength and mental focus. Finding a class at a local gym can help discipline both your body and mind and give you tools to enable you to pay attention longer, and avoid the distractions that hurt you.

Incidentally, if you’re like me and the thought of going to the gym and showing a bunch of strangers your gut and cankles makes you cringe, why not check out the Wii Fit. It’s got a great selection of yoga games you can play alone at home (where no one can see you fall off it). I have one, and I will say it takes a tremendous amount of concentration to get good!

Here’s a list of resources that Magpies may find helpful in overcoming their challenges, so they can get on with the business of effectively managing their projects:

Being Organized Time Management Yoga

Taking a structured approach to being organized (and remember there’s no shame in getting help with that), time-boxing work, and practicing focusing techniques (like yoga) can help Magpies keep an eye on the breadth of work under their care. While it may take a little more effort than you expect at first, it will pay off in the long run. The big irony that Magpies often discover when they finally make real progress is, the shiniest thing of all is themselves!

Next up: The Deer in Headlights

This series has seven more articles coming your way! Make sure you get them all!

I’d like to hear from you about this article. At the very top in the grey box are eight other destructive PM behaviours I could think of. But the list isn’t inclusive. Offer up other behaviours you think could be added to the list and if I get enough I’ll run another series featuring yours!

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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.