Are you working too hard to be a great project manager?

During my time leading a number of PMOs across different organisations one thing was common across all of the project managers that worked under the PMO, and that was they generally could be placed in to two groups.

The first group was reasonably successful in leading projects to the point of delivery and then sign-off by the steering board and sponsor. But so, too, were the second group, they also led reasonably successful projects. The difference was in the time that they invested in actually doing the work. One group averaged a ‘normal’ working week whilst the second group averaged many more hours.

Of course, projects aren’t flat in their demand of project managers’ time investment, but I am talking averages here. The key point is, the output was extremely similar but the input was very different.

This is precisely why I advocate being a ‘lazy’ project manager – but by that I meant a ‘productively lazy’ project manager. I certainly don’t intend that we should all do absolutely nothing and I’m not saying we should all sit around drinking coffee, reading a good book and engaging in idle gossip whilst watching the hours go by and the non-delivered project milestones disappear over the horizon. That would obviously be overtly stupid and result in an extremely short career in project management. In fact, it would probably result in a very short career full stop!

What I am really trying to get at is that we should all adopt a more focused approach to project management and to exercising our efforts where it really matters, rather than rushing around like busy, busy bees involving ourselves in unimportant, non-critical activities that others can better address, or indeed that do not need addressing at all in some cases.

The behavioural differences in those two groups of project managers was that the latter had not matured their project management style. This group often failed to delegate in the appropriate way, involved themselves in too much communication (often becoming a bottleneck slowing the communication process down) and placed themselves in the path of the majority of the decisions that needed to be taken (often becoming a bottleneck slowing the decision-making process down).

They were working very, very hard but they weren’t being really, really effective. The project managers who acted in a more productive fashion realised that it wasn’t the volume of communication that counted for example, it was the quality; concise, informative communication in the right format, at the right time to the right person. This allowed people to absorb the information, respond quickly and to make the best decisions in a timely that reduce mistakes and allowed the project to progress.

To achieve project success in the most efficient way you always need to think ‘smarter and not harder’ and achieve that ‘productively lazy’ approach. If you can manage that, you will end up with just as successful a project but with all the additional benefits of a better work/life balance. This comes about not only because you are asking those fundamental questions and thereby being involved when and where appropriate but also because you are not over-loading yourself. The smart lazy person is less stressed, more alert and delivers ‘more’ as a result.

Peter Taylor

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