Wednesday, 13 January 2010 08:18

The Lazy Project Manager. Part 2 - The Importance of Position

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This one is not my tale; it is the story of a friend of mine, a friend who is, of course, a project manager; a project manager I know to be very good at team building, a real 'people' person.

Picture a new project with a new project office. Apparently the company my friend was working for had reserved some brand new office space in a building that they were going to move other departments into in the coming months. In the meantime the project team could take over one floor.

Now, I have been in many project offices over the years ranging from a single desk to a temporary office unit (grey boxes that get lifted in to place by a crane and officially described as 'relocatable and modular accommodation' apparently). But, by all accounts, this new building that my friend moved into with his project team was superb.

He chose a nice new desk by a window and with a view facing the doors so that he could see all that went on, people coming and going, working (or not working I guess), and so on.

And so life was good and thus did the project move forwards in a pleasing way.

The only feature that was lacking was a decent coffee machine. They had a temporary one to begin with but the team waited with baited breath for the new, top of the range, super-dooper, hot beverage dispenser.

It arrived one weekday morning, wheeled in on a trolley. My friend was elsewhere at the time on important project business. When he arrived back in the project office he was somewhat surprised to see that his desk now had a new neighbour. A coffee machine.

'Hey, grab a coffee, its great' was the general cry from the project team. I am sure that that is what he did, before walking the two feet back to his desk.

The project office was full now and so it was too late to move desk. Oh well, a great project office with a great coffee machine was not something to make too much fuss about.

And then things went downhill:

Day 1. People started saying 'hello' each time they lined up for a coffee at the machine by his desk.

Day 2. People started conversations as they waited for their freshly simulated brewed cup of java by his desk.

Day 3. People started sitting on his desk, whilst they waited for coffee, said 'hello', engaged in conversation and were generally sociable.

Day 4. People asked him where the spare coffee cups were and what 'error 54g' was.

Day 5. People asked him what the telephone number for the coffee repairman was so that they could report 'error 54g' and get the coffee machine fixed.

Day 10. People started using the phone on his desk whilst waiting for a coffee etc.

Day 15. The project manager left the building.

In actual fact he did move desks, he manage to secure a small space across the landing from the main project office. It wasn't ideal as he was now removed from the project team but, on balance, it was better than the alternative.

It doesn't matter that you want to espouse an open door policy, in order to be as accessible as possible to everyone, if you want to get on with your job you do need some space. To be right at the centre of everything all the time is not conducive to being a good project manager.

It was the coffee machine or the project manager, and the team made it clear that the coffee machine won hands down!

A Final Comment

So for the 'productive lazy' project manager it is perfectly acceptable for the lights to be on and for no one to be at home; not all the time, obviously, and at critical times access and visibility are all too important. But for the rest of the time, why not let your project team work a few things out for themselves, take some degree of responsibility and decision making, and generally get on with the tasks at hand.

Being there when you are really needed and being there all the time are very different things indeed.

'You never know till you try to reach them how accessible men are; but you must approach each man by the right door'. Henry Ward Beecher

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Peter Taylor, despite his title of 'The Lazy Project Manager', is in fact a dynamic and commercially astute professional who has achieved notable success in project management, program management and the professional development of project managers, currently as Director of a PMO at Siemens PLM Software, a global supplier of product lifecycle management solutions. He is an accomplished communicator and leader; always adopting a proactive and business-focused approach and he is a professional speaker with City Speakers International. He is also the author of 'The Lazy Project Manager' book (Infinite Ideas 2009) - for more information - www.thelazyprojectmanager.com.

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