Micromanagement Is Good

There is this big movement (maybe just some folks grabbing onto buzz words, I don’t know we’ll see) to flatten the organization or, as D Pink emphasized in Drive, to create autonomy. As for project managers, we hear a lot about Agile and putting people before systems, embracing change, and how PMs are not sitting at the top but are a part of the team. Ty Kiisel wrote a great blog about Yum! and Boeing’s attempt to implement social media platforms in their orgs, in an attempt to create a more open, flat, collaborative work environment. With the speed of business faster then ever, virtual teams becoming the norm, and the talent pool more business/tech savvy then ever; I don’t disagree with the approach at all. As commented in Ty’s post, I am rooting for Yum! and Boeing to succeed in a big way. However, if I could reach over to the complete polar opposite side of this and say that micromanagement is something that should not be put in the archives of business concepts.

Yes, I believe there is a time and place for micromanagement and before we get into this, let me share Dictionary.com’s definition: ” to control (a business or project) with excessive attention to minor details.”  So while it has taken on a negative connotation in the corporate world, it does not mean to control everything, make all decision, and be the final say on all manners.

I recently took on a new position…new company, project running for about 3 months when I got here, and the first time this business unit was leveraging a PM. Without getting into too much detail…the guy before me did a pretty good job and the business is working very well with the PM concepts, but there were a few issues I think called for some micromanagement.  Every PM has heard this during a status call or other project meeting…”Hey John, that’s the process we discussed the other day in your office right?”  As the PM you find yourself a little at ease.  Did they solution something in a vacuum?  Who else have they socialized this idea with?  The problem is not off-line communication and the message isn’t to micromanage projects.  The point is that one of the key aspects of a project managers job is communicator.  Making sure everyone is up to speed on latest issues, decision, next steps, etc.  So what I find myself doing when joining a project late or working with a group that is new to project management is asking them to include me in every meeting and cc me on every email.  As I get caught up to speed, we will certainly pull this back but if I am going to get caught up to speed on the various work streams then I must know about them.  I know this goes against everything society is talking about today and it definitely raises eye brows of your project team, but if you don’t then project will manage you and the team members will run you.  If you get caught in the hallway by a key stakeholder your response will be “Let me check with Jon X)…not where you want to be as a PM. Have you heard of chasing cats tails or nailing Jell-o to a tree.   A key benefit of project management is understanding how the functions effect one another, who’s effort has what effect on the critical path, and unified communication across all stakeholders.  You can’t do that if you’re always catching up tos idebar conversation.  Micromanage…give special attention to the minor details for a little while.  Until you get ahead of it.  Besides coming in late on a project, another potential spot for micromanagement is right at the end.  You don’t need brand new ideas coming into play a week before you launch.  It creates doubt, confusion, etc.  If there is truly an issue or concern, then that should be funneled through the PM for analysis before getting the org in an uproar days from launch.

You need to move off of the micromanagement step as quickly as possible though.  It goes right along with “I’m new, so…”.  Both have their place and both are valid, but they both have a short lifespan of acceptance by your team/organization.


9 thoughts on “Micromanagement Is Good

  1. Hey Dale! Thanks for stopping by and joining the conversation. You bring up a great point…with time comes trust and less of a need to micromanage (should be).

    Thanks again!

  2. Sometimes, it takes multiple projects with the same project team to really form that environment and tight team culture. For those first few projects, you do have to do some micromanaging … and will have to until the team members find their groove.

    I conducted UAT on a project with a particular team where things played out in a less-than-desirable fashion. Before we began UAT for the next project, I wrote out the step by step process and clarified that each team member should notify the next person in the process after them that it was time for them to do their task. I also clarified that they should notify me. UAT went off without a hitch. The “micromanagement” was done in advance in the form of planning. Once everyone understood the plan, there really wasn’t a need to micromanage the people.

    Some teams can be more difficult though, if the processes and work are more complex.

  3. Well, in mine experience it is not possible to form a team without a certain micro-management techniques, because in order to understand what doesn’t work you must be involved in the team as much as possible (to gain trust from both sides) and only after you really understand your team you can step out and just delegate work.

    E.g. i still believe that Scrum actually is a great framework to micromanage the team :) And only after the team becomes more mature (6-12 months) Scrum Master can feel more comfortable.

  4. Thank you all for visiting the post and even more so for taking the time to comment and engage.

    Mike, you make a great point with regards to right level of focus and that is something no methodology, conference, or class can teach. That comes from the PM/Managers experience, as well as how long a team has worked together as well.

    Micah/Guy – you are right, a manager needs to get in front of it. A few of the key roles a leader plays is communicator, advisor, and when push comes to shove…decision maker. If you don’t know what is going on across the org/team then you can look foolish by communicating dated/incomplete information for example.

    Thanks again everyone!

  5. great article. The more i “micromanage” the details on the front end in clear detailed directives and deadlines the less i have to on the back end when things don’t meet my unspoken expectations.

    My 2 cents worth.

  6. I agree Robert!
    If you come into a project “Post Placement” and you don’t micro for the time it takes to get up to speed, you will alway’s look like you don’t know what your doing and infact will alway’s be playing the {ketchup) game.

  7. Robert,
    For my two cents (or can I offer two pence?) worth, I think therm “micromanagement” has suffered a shift in meaning. It no longer is taken to mean a level of management that focuses on fine detail (a value-free concept) but is instead is used to imply a level of management at too great a level of detail (and by definition, a bad thing).
    The job of a PM (or, indeed, any manager) is to determine the optimum level of detail to focus their management on – for each situation and individual. We must balance assessments of risk, competence, confidence, expediency, development need, learning style… It’s not easy, so we do sometimes get it wrong, but one thing we cannot escape is responsibility.
    When we take responsibility for a project, we seize the right to focus at the level of detail we see fit: from the macro down to the nano, if necessary.

  8. Love it Andrej!

    What are your thoughts as far as a point of differentiation with regards to vision casting and team forming vs. micromanagement? Is it one and the same? I think there is a natural evolution in which you are standing things up and the team is naturally working more closely out of sheer reliance on one another and creating an environment that you ‘force’ folks to work more closely. Thoughts?

    Thanks again! Love engagement.

  9. Great post!

    My 2 cents

    Before moving off of micromanagement as a manager you must build an environment for the team to operate effectively towards the goal of the project

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