Tuesday, 01 December 2009 23:00

The Productive Lazy Project Manager and the Open Door Policy

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6629058Be Accessible in a Controlled Way

I'm all for being there for people, honest I am. It's just that people take advantage of it if I am.

 

So for the 'productive lazy' project manager, I would suggest that it is perfectly acceptable for the lights to be on and for no one to be home; not all of the time obviously, and at critical times access and visibility are all too important. But for the rest of the time, why not let the whole 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.

Being reachable in a controlled manner, and within an acceptable timeframe, to answer appropriate questions (and not stupid ones) is equally important. The last thing you want is a long line of people queuing up at your desk waiting to ask advice, and your phone flashing with an ever increasing number of messages, and all the time your inbox is reaching capacity with demands for your attention.

This can lead to the 'lights on all the time' syndrome, a very dangerous condition:

"What should I do now?"

"Breathe" you might reply

"In or out?"

You have so many more useful things that you could be doing, like reading a good book in the comfy chair for example.

Applying the 'Productive Lazy' Approach

Avoid the Swamp

This is linked in so many ways to the communication topic already covered. If you create a communication plan that guarantees to swamp you from day one, what is the benefit; to you or to the project?

None!

The plan should ensure you are not seen as the oracle on all matters, nor that you become the bottleneck for a constructive information flow within the project team. Most projects develop communication plans that are the documented strategy for getting the right information to the right people at the right time. We all know that each stakeholder has different requirements for information and so the plan defines what, how and how often communication should be made. What project managers rarely do is consider and map all communication flows, official, unofficial, developmental or complete, and do a load analysis across the project structure of these communication flows. If they did they would spot bottlenecks much earlier than they normally do; usually this problem is only identified when one part of the communication chain starts complaining about their workload.

Consider the Open Door Policy

The open door policy has become a real management cliché.

"Of course" managers pronounce in a firm voice, "my door is always open to you all, day or night; I'm really there for you."

Empowerment in this way has become more an entitlement for the project team than a project manager's choice. They just expect you to be there when they want you to be (and not even when they need you to be there, either). An open door policy can easily transform a project manager's role from that of an authority, and managing figure to that of a subservient accommodator, with little chance for exercising control on those that demand access.

Be a Good Manager

The best manager is the probably the one who reads the paper or MSN every morning, has time enough to say "Hi" at the coffee machine, is isn't always running flat out because they are "late for an important meeting." By that I mean that a good (an obviously productively lazy) manager has everything running so smoothly that they have time to read the paper or MSN and so on. This is a manager who has to be confident in their position and capabilities.

A good manager will have time for their project team, and being one who has everything running smoothly, will allow that to happen.

A good manager does not need to be on hand twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. They do not have to have the answer to every question, nor do they have to be the conduit to the answer to every question. There is a whole project team out there - go talk to some of them - they probably will have a much better answer to hand, anyway.

Think about Number One

You honestly want the best for yourself as well as for the project; I understand that, so give yourself that chance. Have you ever met a project manager who has put themselves down as a project risk? "Yeah, well I am just too nice a guy, can't say no, can't turn someone away, love to cha"' - likelihood 80%, impact 100%, mitigate now!

But hopefully by now you also want to apply the productive lazy approach so consider this; let the team deal with 80% of the communication, 80% of the questions, 80% of the issues, and let the 20% come through to you for consideration and guidance. You don't even have to solve that 20%. I would further suggest that only 20% of this 20% are likely to be answered by you in an adequate manner; there are always others that can provide better advice.

Think about the Rest

OK, you have dealt with the'thinking about number one thing, now what about your team? Well by dealing with number one you will have already done the team a huge favour. You will be accessible when you need to be accessible. The lights will go on as and when they are really needed - it is a kind of 'green' project management policy.

The worse thing that can happen is that just at the moment when there is a 'clear and present' need for someone to speak to you, whether about a project or a personal matter, you are just too tied up with trivia to even give them the time of day. Remember the whole 'respect' and 'reputation for team support' we spoke about earlier, well this is a major contributor to that.

Analyze and Reduce

And this is not a one-off action; you need to keep on top of this as well. Projects change, communication develops, and roles are in flux. Do a quick analysis of what information and queries flow through you and how, and regularly re-assess. Can others deal with some of this? What are the important components that you should be involved in? Are there too many questions and communication from particular sources? And so on.

Make sure that everyone knows that the light works and when and how they can turn that light on fast if they really need to.

Don't forget to leave your comments below


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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