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4 Signs You’re a Micromanager in Your Projects

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4 Signs You’re a Micromanager in Your Projects

By Yasmina Khelifi, PMI-ACP, PMI-PBA, PMP

Are you a micromanager in your projects? Of course not! (Who would answer “yes” to this question?)

However, after 20 years of work experiences with several managers and project managers, I’ve met micromanagers—and I was also one of them.

Let’s review some language that reveals repetitive micromanagement behaviors observed during my career…

1. “I want to help you.”

A few years ago, I had a micromanager. He was full of good intentions and always wanted to help me. He liked to brainstorm together, whereas I needed to brainstorm alone first and then share with the team. Without knowing it, he was stymying my creativity and motivation. I tried to explain to him I preferred to work independently and that I would come to him when I needed to, but he was offended by that as he wanted to help—and at the same time know it all. Ultimately, although the work was interesting, I left the team. His help was counterproductive.

I’ve also proposed (even insisted) offers of my help to colleagues; now I try to refrain from doing that, remembering that manager.

2. “You are responsible for this work package—it would be good to do this…”

I worked with a very competent technical project manager who wanted to know the details of the work. He once assigned me the management of a study with external stakeholders. He delegated the work package to comply with good management rules—but couldn't help interfering because he had a precise idea on how to do the work. I asked him if he wanted to manage it himself. My question waked him up, and he was less intrusive.

When I managed my first software project, the sponsor wanted to know everything. He asked me questions, which I transmitted to the software engineers. They answered them reluctantly, complaining that we should let them define the way they wanted to implement the product. They considered it a lack of trust, which generated conflict.

3. “Don’t forget to ask her to call us if she needs more information.”

Some project managers also told me: “At the end of the email, don’t forget to mention that we can have a conference call if more information is needed.” I thought in silence: “Don't you think a professional who needs more information will call? Do we need to add this sentence?” (Or another sentence about an email sent to a top manager: “Are you sure he transmitted the email we sent to him?”)

This excessive control translates into wordy emails that don't bring value—and it increases our stress.

4. “Copy me on all emails.”

In the software project mentioned above, I also wanted to be copied to all emails, anxious about missing any information. I didn't read them all, but I didn't ask to be removed from them. It gave me the illusion of knowing all about the project.

Getting out of the micromanagement trap
What triggers these behaviors? Is micromanagement a personality trait? I’m not an organizational psychologist, but over the years I've found the main reasons for micromanagement are:

  • an excess of perfectionism
  • the “shame” of not knowing
  • a lack of maturity in people skills, especially if an SME becomes a project manager
  • top management is distrusting and thus too inquiring, going beyond their role in an attempt to learn every detail

The way to get out of this trap that we can all fall into is to honestly express what you need to work efficiently and healthily—and also express what triggers frustration and stress. You have no guarantee that sharing this will solve the situation, but it will help avoid frustration from building up and bursting out.

We want to share our work experiences and help others avoid the traps and mistakes we've gone through, but making mistakes is part of the learning process. In addition, explaining these things to a seasoned project manager may be perceived the wrong way and come across as hurtful. Mastering how to help your team without micromanaging is a top competency in the hybrid world.

What other micromanagement behaviors have you observed (or exhibited)? How did you deal with them? Share your comments below.

Posted by Yasmina Khelifi on: August 01, 2021 05:20 AM | Permalink

Comments (26)

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Dear Yasmina
Very interesting theme that brought to our reflection and debate
Thanks for sharing and your opinions.

As long as the desired standards are defined at the outset and there is confidence that the team members will deliver value according to the desired and previously defined standards, it can and should be delegated.

It is important to follow all steps in the delegation process

Your Point #4. “Copy me on all emails.” caught some of my colleagues red handed

Hi Luis, thank you for your feedback and clarifying the steps of delegation. Very good points!

Hi Kwiyuh Michael, thank you for your feedback!

Thank you

Dear Yasmina
I'm a fan of SHU-HA-RI

Thanks for this reflection, deep truths here.

Thank you Yasmina for sharing this. Have been through such situations and it all boils down to the trust level with your team which needs to be built step by step.

Unfortunately, my manager has all of these traits and more. I am stressed 24/7. I believe the only way to get out of this trap is to leave!

I must say I am experiencing micromanaging from a leader of a volunteer team. I just don't know how to make the person aware of it. But this is insightful. Thanks.

Hi all, I just realize I do Micromanage a lot!
The points, all of them just gets me... I think the lack of confidence in the team makes me act that way.
I think is not a bad think to micromanage, but also that we need to create trust in the team, they ned to believe in themselves.

These are interesting points, and absolutely something to consider when doing a self-check. That said, smaller task teams must share more information to be able to absorb change (unplanned illness, etc.).

If you are worried about falling into the micro-managing 'trap', one simple and effective thing to do is less...not more. Do not do all the talking during status updates - require your key resources/SME's to document & provide their details. Do not be the first to speak up to questions during meetings. Have the appropriate resources/SME's available and set the expectation they should be the first to address questions. Making others talk - internally & externally - is key to driving involvement, focus and commitment from your project resources. If you manage meetings and talk/act like a 'know it all', then you risk either becoming one or - worse yet - being perceived as one. Your primary objective is to have the right people in attendance for all meetings - not to do all the talking in their place. The less you talk, the less likely you become a micro-manager.

Excellent and challenging article. I was once a micromanager (but did not realize it for a long time). I found reminding myself to let the team members do things their way instead of pushing them to do it my way whenever possible helped. I also tried to figure out the "glass balls" that could not be dropped and the "rubber balls" that could (and the project would survive). I tried not to worry about the rubber balls so much and to coach (rather then direct) with the glass ones. The point about talking less (and listening to the team) is well made. Thanks!

Hello Yasmina,
Thanks for the insights on this very crucial and interesting topic. I think micromanagement comes into the picture when we don't have confidence on the other person. It could be either due to past assignements/experience with the person. Instead of opting for tools like coaching we go for micromanagement. That way, we not only block our time but also of others as we become bottleneck. In all, it impacts growth of all kind. I think we coach propoerly and then delegate the work wisely then it will help all.

Micromanagement could be embarrassing ,making you feel incompetent. The best way to go about it is to ploitely tell the project manager to have trust in team members and tolerate their shortcomings, the PM should also spend some funds on trainings to get the best out of his team members.

Thank you Michael!

Thank you Luis for mentioing Shu Ha ri!

Thank you Sergio!

Thank you Sinan for your comment. It's unrealistic to think you can change people from my experiences. I had a very kind but micromanager and he controlled himself for a short period of time but then he got back to the old habbits! It's very damaging for health. so take good care of yousefl!

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