Don’t DO it — Manage It!

You didn’t really become a project manager because you wanted to work for a living, did you? I get hives just thinking about it. The PM is there to make sure the screws get turned in the right direction at the right time, not to actually turn them. Start turning them yourself and you could (sorry, I can’t resist) screw things up.

Of course, you became a PM because you love making things happen and you find it rewarding to assume responsibility for things. And you want to do a good job or you wouldn’t be among the two or three people reading the blog this quarter. This conscientiousness makes it difficult for you to keep your hands out of the cookie batter, especially if you’re new to the role or things are going south. The problem with is, once you start mucking around in other people’s business, you run a handsome risk of flinging muck everywhere and gumming up your project. When a PM gets involved in the day to day work that rightfully belongs to resource managers and their resources, communications get crossed up and relationships get cracked.

Why might this happen? And what happens if it does?

Expert Syndrome. You’re an expert! You came into project management from a more task-focused field and you’re used to getting in there and doing, not making sure other people are pitching in. So, you start in to work, or more likely—and worse—you try to micro-manage the people practicing in your knowledge area. Folks get resentful, their tolerance quickly gets to zero and pretty soon nobody is telling you anything you need to know because they’re afraid that if they talk to you, they’ll invite further interference or finally give in to the impulse to wring your neck. Relationships are the PM’s most precious, useful resource—handle with care.

Manager Guilt. More common in new PMs, this is the feeling that you’re not really contributing because you’re not writing code or making a CAD drawing or whatever. You stick your nose in, much like the Expert Syndrome PM, only your attitude is… well, kind of pathetic. You end up not only annoying people, but making it obvious you don’t believe in yourself or your role. If you don’t believe in the value of the PM’s function, your team won’t either.

You’re the One. You believe that if you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself. This is great if you’re one person responsible for a single task area on a project, but if you’re managing the whole thing, what are you going to do? Do all the jobs yourself? Of course you can’t, so you’re going to walk around wishing you could. Take this approach and you’re going to wear yourself down to a nub with worry, and pretty quickly. Projects are hard enough without a freaked-out PM. Make the leap of faith and believe in your team. If you really believe some of the team can’t cut it, go talk to those resource managers Now.

How do you avoid the causes of doing actual work?

Change Your Mind. The causes I’ve outlined above are all more or less related to your emotions and/or your belief system, so the first thing you want to do is change those. You can do it—after all, you chose them. If you’re not sure how to go about it, try engaging a business coach for a few sessions, or read a couple of books. The One-Minute Manager is a good start, even if it is an oversimplification. Neal Whitten’s No-Nonsense Advice for Successful Projects is a great in-depth coverage of just about everything you need to know to achieve project management fame and fortune.

Get With the PM Program. If you’ve got enough time to run around doing work that’s not related to project management, you’re not doing enough of your project management stuff. Go back to the PMBOK guide, or the training materials you used to get your PMP certification, or to a more experienced PM, and figure out what you could be doing that you’re not. Oh, and if you haven’t had any project management training, go get some. There are loads of degrees and programs around, and your company might even foot the bill.

Next: Warm, Fuzzy, and Feudal: Relationships and Project Management

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