Project Management

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Voices on Project Management offers insights, tips, advice and personal stories from project managers in different regions and industries. The goal is to get you thinking, and spark a discussion. So, if you read something that you agree with--or even disagree with--leave a comment.

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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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