Project Communications Part 2 – Assessing Key Stakeholders Temperament
“Invariably, micromanaging results in four problems: deceit, disloyalty, conflict, and communication problems.” John Rosemond
“Team members need to feel trusted and valued, and micromanaging communicates the opposite. Founders who are prone to manage every detail of their businesses will ultimately kill themselves as well as lose the support of team members. Learn to delegate key tasks and give credit.” Martin Zwilling
In my last post I began a series on project communications and explained that this is a crucial topic because the success of the project is directly tied to your ability to clearly and concisely communicate to key stakeholders. Key stakeholders who will be directly responsible for making key decisions about your project and who probably won’t understand much about projects. I explained that the project manager needed to assess how knowledgeable key stakeholders were about project management and how knowledgeable they needed to be. I then explained that in my experience, the level of knowledge required is a function of how long the project is and the temperament of the stakeholder. Finally, we discussed the length of the project as a factor.
Today we discuss key stakeholder temperament.
This may be a broad generalization, but stakeholders fall into two categories; They micromanage projects, or they don’t! That’s it! Notice I inserted the word “projects” in this assessment because I have noticed that some people who micromanage in virtually every other aspect of their domain completely disconnect when they are responsible for projects, while others who delegate decisions to their subordinates suddenly require excruciating reporting from their projects!
You will need to assess what type of stakeholders you are dealing with, and the best way to do that is to schedule a meeting and explain the basics of project management to them. You should leave that meeting with a good understanding of the cadence of briefings, how much information they need and what types of decisions need to be elevated to them outside of the traditional project governance structure.
If you are good (and a bit lucky) you should be able to run your project! Day to day decisions are yours and the project will be governed according to well established project management principles and practices. Your key stakeholders will be briefed during regularly scheduled governance meetings and all decisions will be decided through those established processes. Your key responsibility is to make sure the processes are followed. Wow, you get to be a Project Manager!
If you had a bad day (or were a bit unlucky), the key stakeholders will want to be heavily involved.
A word about micromanagers. There are those out there who believe that they are imbued with such special powers of insight and decision-making abilities that they must decide everything! It’s true! And thank goodness they are in their position, otherwise the entire organization would collapse in a frenzy of bad decision making! If you work in an organization where virtually every substantive decision requires you to elevate it for a decision, you are being micromanaged.
But I am sure you already knew that….
What is the Achilles Heal of the micromanager? Capacity!
If your organization has thousands of employees and layers of intervening management, the design supports a distributed decision making model. If a micromanager is at the top, they put in place approval processes and quickly become a bottleneck and work grinds to a stop.
Here is a secret…
They don’t really know everything and they don’t have capacity to do the work of the entire management team. Shocking words, but true! So how does the Project Manager react to this fact pattern? By embracing the micromanager with a full “bear hug”! Provide them with more than they ask for! Drown them in statistics, status reports, charts, graphs, daily updates and of course pre-reads for the next Executive Steering Committee Meeting! Ask them about what you sent and then seek input.
They won’t be able to keep up! And you are establishing yourself as someone who does not require micromanaging. At some point, they will disengage, and you can run your project!
You won’t find this in the PMBOK®, but it works!
Next I'll discuss a tool that was dropped from the current PMBOK, but is actually very helpful.
Channels of Communication.
Micromanagement is an interesting topic. Virtually every management book says that it is terrible practice that has a corrosive impact on both productivity and employee morale. Yet it persists! I personally believe (and have written about) that organizations tend to reject the Pareto Principle and instead focus on Six Sigma levels of accuracy. For everything! We tend to measure what we see, and what is most visible are those transactional activities that employees do as part of their day to day work such as time, travel and supplies. In an attempt to ensure that a few bad actors don’t violate the rules, we make things difficult for everyone. A byproduct of this is the creation of a complex web of rules to enforce these processes, which then creates “process crimes” when people inadvertently violate incomprehensible rules! A little bit of delegation and trust go a very long way. More people should try that.