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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

Project Management Styles: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly


This time a quick look at different types of project management styles. Since I’m dealing with many different teams and many different project managers I hear plenty of opinions about PMs and approaches they employ in their work.

Somehow those opinions tend to support one of three general pictures: the good, the bad or the ugly. Somehow those opinions tend to be pretty aligned. My wild-ass guess: that’s not without a reason. Actually the more I think about that the more I’m sure I could put any project manager I know in one of these buckets.

The Good

You know your job. You try to do your job well. It doesn’t mean you don’t fail. Oh, you do, that’s for sure. However chances are good that every failure is an occasion to learn for you.

The funny thing is the sole reason that you know your job and try to do it well isn’t enough to be respected by people around. There’s something more. You can adjust yourself to changing environment. After all, as a PM, you’re in the middle of the mess, usually called “a project.”

You’re a good observer. You know about people you work with. Sometimes you know about them more than their managers or themselves. You call risks out. Not only project-related ones. Also those which are tightly connected with people and their characters. That doesn’t mean you’re always listened. Heck, that doesn’t even mean you’re often listened. But it isn’t a reason to stop trying.

You’re good but it doesn’t mean you don’t have rough edges. Oh, you do. A lot of them. So yes, we had our fights and misunderstandings. It’s likely we filed each other under “problematic” label after our first meetings. But then, we both know this job takes all sorts and it’s our mutual business to find a way to cooperate well. What more, we clearly stated what we expect from the other side which helped to shorten the process of learning each other.

Now, you’re one of those who I want to work with. I mean really. You aren’t an easy partner but discussion with you is never a waste of time, even if part our ways without finding consensus. It’s good to see you popping up in my office even when you bring a problem with you. It’s good to know you’ll be running projects I care about.

Besides, that’s not only my opinion. People keep pointing on you as a project manager they’d like to have in their projects.

The Bad

For whatever reasons you don’t really like what you do. It may be anything from feeling you’re predestined to something other/better to belief that your work isn’t appreciated enough. Either way you don’t like the point where you stand.

The real problem is you don’t do much to turn things around. If we don’t count complaining that is. It’s either definition of your role which is wrong or expectations are too high or boss is a jerk or project is a nightmare or moon is in the wrong phase. You feel a kind of doomed. You can’t work the way you’d like and you have no guts to consistently work to change things around.

As a PM you have your power though. You use it to show that you are important. You request compliancy, you condemn overruns, you demand people, resources and budgets. There’s interesting thing here – you seem to always know the answer. The best solution is the one you point. And if reality doesn’t stick to it, well, so much the worse for the reality.

Somehow almost everyone around never lives up to your expectations. And almost everyone around would say about you exactly the same. They keep asking what exactly you are responsible for as they’re suspicious enough to think it should be more than you seem to accept at the moment.

We might have had our fights, but that’s not so obvious. You might have been just ignored in a well-mannered way. Chances are good you haven’t really fought for your projects. After all the whole world is allied against you, isn’t it?

Besides, that’s not only my opinion. Most of project teams which worked with you will prefer some other project manager. They won’t be totally disappointed with having another project with you though. After all it’s better to have someone who isn’t supportive but isn’t a pain in the ass either.

The Ugly

You consider yourself as a damn good project manager. You’re a tough type, but that’s what this role taught you to be. You don’t care whether you’re liked or not. This job isn’t about being likeable but about pushing projects to their end. Yes, that’s the word, you push these projects. Without you all developers would end up reading news or playing Counter Strike all day long.

You know how to use project management tools you have. They may say you’re kind of formalist but that’s how you show who failed with their tasks and where eventual project failure should be addressed. Also your ass is always covered. You have e-mails, documents and such for every problem in the project. In the worst case you can say: “Haven’t I told you that?”

I have mixed feelings about you. Sometimes you’re able to put together a group of people and make them playing as project team. Sometimes playing a bad sergeant brings projects closer to the successful end. Unfortunately at least equally often your approach triggers allergic reaction in project teams which brings additional issues to the project. You have an ability to change performance of teams. The problem is it works in both directions – sometimes it goes up and sometimes it goes down.

By the way: your successes seem to be interlaced with failures – isn’t that surprising? With your rock star project management skills every project should be a stunning success. I know it’s always team’s fault but hey, there are fellow PMs who seem to have much better success rate.

Besides, that’s not only my opinion. People say different things about you. There are those who consider you as a model project manager and those who prefer to have no project manager at all than to have you to lead their projects. Have I already mentioned “mixed feelings?”

in: personal development, project management

3 comments… add one

  • Brenda July 15, 2011, 12:26 pm

    Isn’t it amazing, and somewhat humorous, that these kinds of managers were once individual contributors who were probably complaining about their dysfunctional managers? Something strange happens when people become managers. Please remember to keep your humility and self-awareness when you get that promotion! Otherwise you will become the scourge that you previously whined about.

  • Pawel Brodzinski July 15, 2011, 11:36 pm

    @Brenda – This is interesting observation. I’ve never thought about it this way. You’re right, we often complain about our leaders but once we get into their shoes we play our roles exactly the same as they did.

    I have another observation which is equally sad – usually organizational culture affects the way we work, especially on management posts, and usually it is negative influence. Yes, I know this is something Deming keeps telling us, yet I’m still surprised seeing people who changed their attitude completely while working in specific organization. Heck, I see it on my own example as well, and that’s not the best news I could have had for myself.

  • mark February 12, 2013, 7:33 am

    Only 1 post? wow…

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