1. The Sack.
2. The Magpie.
3. The Deer in Headlights.
4. The Hungry Vulture.
5. The Premature Solutioner.
6. The Terrier.
7. The Wanderer.
8. The Anticipator.
9. The Reluctant Puppet.
And after almost three weeks, we finally come to the end of my series on destructive project manager behaviours. I hope you’ve enjoyed the series as much as I have. This has been by no means an exhaustive list. There are dozens of other behaviours we could evaluate, and if enough of you submit your ideas in the comments section, I may revive this topic and do another series crediting the behaviours you’d like to talk about.
Chime in below! Have you identified with this series at all? Recognized your own behaviour in places, or that of others you’ve worked with? Have you found this series constructive in terms of offering points for introspection? Or do you feel behaviour analysis really has no place in the realm of project management?
While you’re thinking about that, I give you the final chapter in the series…
9. The Reluctant Puppet.
Here we come to, what I believe, is the single most destructive behaviour any project manager can demonstrate. The Reluctant Puppet is a project manager who wants to run a project the way he or she knows how, but who allows well-meaning stakeholders, sponsors or their own management to railroad them into a different approach.
On the surface, this behaviour sounds fairly benign. Everyone’s well meaning, and everybody wants to get along. It seems very easy to give in once for the sake of keeping the waters smooth, but the problem is, it’s never once. Once the precedent is set, the behaviour becomes expected.
Reluctant Puppets sit on a vicious cycle of micromanagement and erosion. Every time they allow themselves to be steered out of familiar waters, they have to do a lot more work to be able to stay afloat. This causes the puppeteers to become irritated with the resulting lower performance, and start micromanaging. The puppet’s confidence starts to slip away, which causes the puppeteers start to lose respect for him or her, micromanaging even more intensely.
There is no happy ending to this cycle. The stakeholders, sponsors and management will become too exasperated with someone they will come to see as utterly incompetent. The project manager will come to question his or her own capabilities, leading to employment risk, and possibly some serious mental health issues. The project team will be directionless, and the project will either stall or have to undergo a massive makeover to enable it to continue.
It may not seem like it, but the project manager is the only person who can prevent this from happening.
During the selection process, for whatever reason, the powers-that-be chose the project manager for the job. It’s possible the project manager misrepresented him or herself (that’s the first level of responsibility). But assuming the PM was genuine, he or she was selected based on the information available to the decision-makers.
Once the work starts, management will get to know the PM and will start to form better opinions. Maybe they don’t like the PMs methods or style now that they’ve seen them. Maybe they find they don’t even like the PM as a person. Their temptation to steer the project to a more familiar or comfortable direction will grow based on the amount of discomfort they feel. That’s their problem: the PM needs to remember that. There is no law that says a PM has to be universally liked to be effective. But the PM does need to stick to their comfort zone. With the massive quantities of unknown present on any project, the PM can’t afford to throw away the one thing he or she does know.
If flustered and nervous managers or stakeholders insist on pulling the PM away from their methods, the PM needs to sit down with them and be clear: “You’ve hired me to do a job, and I’m doing it the way I know how. If I step outside of my comfort zone to please you, the project will suffer. So we need to make a few decisions on how to get past this.”
That may mean the PM needs to walk away from the project. If that’s the right thing to do, my friend, I’m afraid that’s what needs to happen. But the vicious downward spiral that is the alternative will never get a chance to develop. At least not with you.
While it takes longer term thinking, the puppeteers will likely railroad someone else, and wind up with a struggling project. That PM will probably have to leave, so who do you think the puppeteers will come back to when they realize the prediction you gave them before you walked away came to pass?