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7 productivity-killing habits of project managers

Igor Tkach Chief Technology Officer, Daxx

The project manager's role is often overwhelming. It requires a flexible mindset, a significant amount of energy, and the ability to be proactive.

While trends in project management are changing constantly, some things remain unchanged, whether you're managing software development projects or other IT initiatives: bad habits.

As a former software project manager, I've overseen projects for many businesses and have worked directly with both project managers and stakeholders. Throughout this experience, I've noticed several bad habits that prevent project leaders from becoming superstars in their job.

Here are the seven habits that kill your productivity as a project manager (PM), and how to break them.

1. Lack of balance

The most important and challenging aspect of being a PM lies in understanding and prioritizing the demands of different stakeholders. A study by CEB Inc. (now part of Gartner) of over 30 Fortune 500 companies and nearly 500 project managers revealed that the No. 1 driver of a PM's effectiveness is stakeholder partnership.

It's all about balance. You can't simply field only the concerns of your client, users, or developers. The more you try to please the client and place the blame on developers, the higher the chances of losing trust and support from your team—and vice versa. So how to do it best?

As a professional PM, you should be unbiased and act as a bridge between corporate channels. To do this the right way, bear in mind these simple rules:

  • Schedule regular meetings with key stakeholders and exchange feedback.

  • Make sure communication channels are effective and that each message reaches its addressee.

  • Weigh all of the arguments/details before making key decisions.

  • Learn more about conflict management.

  • Strive for a win-win strategy while managing conflicts.

  • Don't be afraid to say no when it's needed.

  • Prioritize requirements of different stakeholders, and regularly evaluate them.

[ Also see: Project management: A surefire way to kill your software product ]

2. Procrastination

Procrastination is the biggest sin of project management. Indeed, some PMs postpone sending up-to-date status reports that capture all of the business-critical activities and risks associated with a project, or they don't provide timely feedback on team performance and the quality of deliverables.

This often results in poor performance, lack of commitment, and other dysfunctional outcomes.

In this situation, you need to decide whether you are ready to dedicate more time and energy to your job. If not, then you should consider switching to another role or industry. Project management is all about looking beyond multiple constraints and getting things right, on time and on budget.

3. One-way feedback (or lack thereof)

Regular communication and feedback are vital parts of any leadership role. However, they lose their effectiveness when they become one-sided.

For instance, some PMs may be overly directive and blame the team when an issue occurs. Or, conversely, the PM may encourage the team members to speak up and discuss their concerns or achievements without providing any feedback on their performance. Being the good guy and the best friend of the development team is okay until it negatively affects the business.

As a PM, you should keep your communication lines open and facilitate the interaction among multiple stakeholders on the project. Make sure that they are aware of how the project is progressing and that they get a chance to shine and share their opinions.

4. Uninspiring management style

Many PMs tend to formally follow the established process, rather than channel their efforts into building a cohesive work environment.

They lack emotional depth and enthusiasm toward their work. And, subconsciously, the team starts mimicking their attitude, which results in low employee engagement and motivation.

Motivating teams is an essential PM skill that takes time to master. It's about radiating positivity and keeping the team on track to reach milestones, even if the project experiences turbulent times. It's not about faking reality or presenting it in a different light. Rather, you must provide transparency into the project's progress and work cohesively to eliminate potential bottlenecks.

5. Lack of domain-specific knowledge

Some project managers have only a superficial understanding of application architecture, the stack of technologies used on the project, and industry specifics. Such PMs are unable to properly evaluate the project's health or give a realistic estimate of the execution time for various tasks, so they act as project administrators rather than PMs.

You can't be effective when you completely ignore the business and technology context of things. Gone are the days when having a generic set of skills was enough. Now the roles and requirements of a PM in software development include not only project governance and administration, but also a broad-based understanding of the business's domain.

A seasoned PM should know the value of the developed product, its competitive advantages, its position in the market, and industry specifics. He or she needs to discuss possible issues with the team to understand all the interactions and dependencies, and have a helicopter view of the project.

If you don't know how to learn the technology, feel free to approach key technical people on your project and encourage them to share their knowledge. Or discover more about your project's tech stack online.

Regarding business domain knowledge, you can consult your marketing stakeholders and industry gurus, and, of course, browse information online. If you fail to do so, your place will be taken by somebody else.

6. Micromanagement

Micromanagement is becoming the norm, especially among PMs who come from a technical background. Certainly, understanding how everything works and how the technology layers fit together can be quite beneficial. However, technical PMs often delve too deeply into the minor details of the project or focus on tasks assigned to other team members.

Then they find themselves in a state where their team's commitment hits a lower bound, since they failed to pay enough attention to key aspects of the project. As a result, they burn themselves out, and the project starts falling apart by the end of the day.

To avoid this, you need to focus on your core competencies and keep in mind the bigger picture. Ensure that the project plan was fulfilled and all stakeholders are satisfied, but don't get overly involved in the work of other team members. Rather, act as a facilitator on the project, making sure everything works in synergy. And delegate, delegate, delegate.

[ Related story: How agile distinguishes between product managers and product owners ]

7. No focus on continuous improvement

Continuous improvement is key when it comes to streamlining workflow and increasing both tangible and intangible gains from the project.

Yet some PMs tend to use "templated practices" without adjusting them to new environments. This is especially common among inexperienced PMs who automatically apply the same workflow and procedures to every project they work on. This, in turn, greatly hinders progress and affects quality.

Flexibility and continuous focus on polishing old practices can help you cut inefficiencies and achieve desired outcomes. I've never seen a case when a development team implemented Scrum practices only. And I can’t imagine Scrum without XP engineering practices.

Normally, the development process comprises a mix of methodologies, practices, standards, and an engineering culture that meshes perfectly with the specific business conditions.

Set the right goals

To become successful and bridge the gaps in their competencies, PMs need to give up these seven bad habits and focus on constantly enhancing their skills and mastering new approaches. Be curious, network with other professionals in your industry, share your experiences and best practices, and remember that every day is given to you to learn something new and improve. The results won't be long in coming.

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