Blog > How to spot a phony project manager and how to smoke him out

How to spot a phony project manager and how to smoke him out

You know the project manager I’m talking about. The one with an ego bigger than is good for him. The one who doesn’t know how to listen. The one who pushes his environment to the envelope. The one who doesn’t meet deadlines and thinks budget overruns are normal. And who doesn’t deliver your results or delivers results, only not fit for purpose.

I’ve been asked several times to advice my clients about what I think of the project managers working at the client’s company. It is pretty tough for me to assess another project manager. I’m not on his team, so I don’t know how he leads his people. But still, with my own experience and careful observation, I’ve seen quite some misfits in my profession. These lot cost you and your company a lot of money and consequentially give project managers a bad reputation.

So how do you spot the project misfit? You can quickly assess the qualities of the project manager you’re working with by:

1. Testing and comparing him to your best project managers.

2. Checking with project team members and other stakeholders, preferably the Business Executive.

To make life easier for you, I made the comparison below to help you spot and smoke out  the project misfit in your organization:

Authentic – The Project Manager Fake – The Project Misfit
Balances out the hands-on and hands-off way of leading, and motivates the team without staying on too high level- or micro-managing. Pays attention to what he likes, misses key management areas, and tells the team what to do in areas that he knows nothing about.
Works with a project plan and can give you critical milestone dates fast. Is transparent and driven to meet deadlines. Reacts on random interruptions. His plan is based on daily issue management. Has no idea about Risk Management and… hey, look, is that Internet??
Gives praise and loves the team that makes it all happen, whenever possible. Takes credit for everything and tries to get credit for other team accomplishments. Blames and bad-mouths others.
Uses an agenda for meetings, has action/risk/issue logs, shared with his team for transparency. Stays on or close to the agenda during meetings. If he has meetings, they end after a few monologues about a subject he likes. Team members ask: “Why were we here and can I have back my wasted hour, please?”
Works to get the work done in the time available, and informs stakeholders of any issues or risks. Errr, Risk? And stakeholder management? Can you stop being such a bureaucrat? My deadline was missed, not because of me, I didn’t tell anyone though.
Uses Product Breakdown Structure (PBS) or at least knows how to understand one. Knows people from past projects who really aren’t fit for the job, but hey, at least I know them! People sometimes waiting for something to do.
Knows when, how and to whom to communicate to is key for project success. Communicates only through formal lines, e-mail and only to people he actually likes.

Once you’ve recognized the misfit, you show them how to be a professional. Here’s how to smoke them out of your organization:

  1. Give accurate, compassionate and candid feedback. Tell him about observed  behavior and feedback from the team. Asks if he recognizes this. Tell him he has two weeks to improve his ways or he is out.
  2. Make a note of your conversation and send this to him by e-mail. You need to have proof that you gave him feedback and he got a chance to improve.
  3. Keep gathering evidence and feedback from the team and stakeholders in those two weeks.
  4. Talk to him every other day about his improvement, so he’ll know that you are serious about him not performing as you expected. And yes, make notes of all of these conversations and e-mail him for confirmation.
  5. After two weeks, it’s up to you to decide if you’ll continue with him or not.

If you don’t, see my article “How to select a project manager – Shashi Consulting’s Top 11 tips for Project Directors and Business Executives” how to find a replacement.

If you do, make absolutely sure that a professional project manager works independently, without you having to manage him all the time.

If you have a gut feeling that the misfit will cost you a lot of precious time and energy to keep him on track despite his progress, smoke him out anyway. As Manager or Director you need to focus on your strategic objectives.

Bad project managers cost you and your company money. They will leave you with a hangover. They will block your own career opportunities. Smoke out the misfit…before it is too late.