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The Bad and the Ugly

George_Feature_Feb9As in any profession, there are the great, the good, the bad and the ugly.  When we have PMs who in the bad and ugly category, we can often find the cause of their deficiencies in the “system of operations.”  The quality gurus tell us that 15% of defects are caused by personal error and 85% are caused by systemic deficiencies.  In the case of the deficient PM or BA the most prevalent causes seem to be unclear role and responsibility understandings and lack of training and support. This is exacerbated by ego issues – people not owning up to the fact that their skills are deficient or that they have a different understanding of their role than those around them.

Once there was a PM who was convinced that her job was to direct the players on the project team. She required that each of them run their daily plan by her and that she approve it. She regularly told them to do things her way, rather than the way they had planned to do it. In short she was a Theory X manager.  Unfortunately, she had a team of highly competent and motivated players. They hated her and were becoming increasingly de-motivated. 

The team members had been together on previous projects with another PM. They viewed the PM role as one that consisted of assigning and prioritizing the work, keeping track of progress, communicating with outside stakeholders, breaking down barriers to progress and keeping the team safe from interference and irrational expectations. They expected their PM to be a competent player and considered him to be a peer, not a boss.

What were the systemic and personal performance causes in this case? 

On the systemic side, the senior managers who assigned the PM did not take the time and effort to explore and define the role. They did not appreciate the relationship dynamics between members of the team. To them people were interchangeable pieces that were being paid to make things happen, no matter what.  In addition, the PM role definition was non-existent and there was no formal mechanism for performance review. Further, people were made PMs based on a formal credential (PMP or equivalent) and a history of being really good project team performers. 

On the personal side, the PM was without much in the way of emotional and social intelligence. Her ability to read the needs of the other team members was more than deficient; it was non-existent. She was so closed minded that she could not conceive of another way to do things than her own. The thought of letting the team figure things out for themselves was threatening.

The combination was deadly. After two projects, the team fell apart. Two members left the company and the other two asked to be transferred. There were no exit interviews (another systemic issue) so the firm never found out about the real reasons for the turn over. The PM surrounded herself with team members who liked or at least accepted taking orders and went on to be relatively successful in getting projects done on time and budget. After ten years or so, she began to burn out and ultimately was let go in a downsizing.

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George Pitagorsky

George Pitagorsky, integrates core disciplines and applies people centric systems and process thinking to achieve sustainable optimal performance. He is a coach, teacher and consultant. George authored The Zen Approach to Project Management, Managing Conflict and Managing Expectations and IIL’s PM Fundamentals™. He taught meditation at NY Insight Meditation Center for twenty-plus years and created the Conscious Living/Conscious Working and Wisdom in Relationships courses. Until recently, he worked as a CIO at the NYC Department of Education.

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