PM: Lives in Dichotomy

Having found myself in a myriad of project situations, I learned (long ago) that no one technique works every time with every person and under every circumstance. It is not as simple as saying, “When I see this, I do that.” Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. And, if we always approach things one way (exclusively, with too much emphasis), we can unknowingly overcompensate in one situation and under compensate in another causing unanticipated outcomes on the project and/or relationships.

As such, the High Performance Project Manager (PM) must be on his/her toes at all times continuously sensing and responding as the situation warrants. This requires balancing what would seem to be a dichotomy of principles and techniques. The definition of dichotomy being: division into two mutually exclusive, opposed or contradictory groups.

Many years ago, there was a software developer on my team who made a comment, something to the effect of: “I can’t quite figure you out. When ‘this happened’ you responded one way. When ‘that happened’ you responded differently. I would have thought you would have responded in a similar manner…” The reality was, there were different players involved and seemingly benign factors to consider in each situation. After doing the necessary “real-time processing” during each scenario, I provided a unique response for each which resulted in a positive outcome supporting the project’s success.

The following list is meant to give the reader a sense of the many principles and techniques that a High Performance PM works with which seem to be a dichotomy:

  • Wields a velvet hammer – Drives the team while never leaving anyone feeling “beaten up.”
  • Maintains direction and control while at the same time ensuring team members know they are key contributors with opportunities to frequently flex their muscles (they get the soapbox / podium and plenty of exposure).
  • Doesn’t just report the news; they MAKE THE NEWS.
  • Is a tenacious babysitter, but never a nag.
  • Performs as a senior player in the organization / on the project while being willing to roll up his/her sleeves to perform ANY task necessary.
  • Speaks their mind while leaving “openings” to obtain feedback and is willing to acknowledge when s/he (being the project emporer) is wearing no clothes.
  • Ensures the team knows: if we fail, it is my fault. When we succeed, it is all on you!
  • Creates a fun team / working environment while ensuring s/he is taken seriously, as a professional!
  • Never worries about or second-guesses their role. They “just do it,“ using personal power; performing as a “force of nature.”
  • Sees the forest AND the trees which requires frequently adjusting focus.
  • Is not afraid to ask the “dumb” questions as they frequently turn out to be “not so dumb” after-all.
  • Builds / maintains rapport with senior management and individual contributors resulting in both viewing the PM as a trusted advisor, even mentor.
  • Follows a plan and method, but knows when to call an audible (real-time course correction).
  • Can drink from a fire hose without drowning by effectively assimilating large amounts of information and making lucid observations that propel the team forward!
  • Divides and conquers while connecting all the dots.
  • Is like a duck: water (stuff) rolls right off it’s back (the seen: mannerisms and emotions) while paddling like crazy underneath (the unseen: real-time processing / thinking).

In summary, there is NO ONE WAY or silver bullet for every situation. The High Performance PM must have a large repertoire of approaches to draw upon in order to respond effectively to each unique set of circumstances and make constant / real-time adjustments.

I hope you find this helpful, if not intriguing.

If you are looking to improve PM capabilities in yourself or organization, feel free to reach out to discuss how I can help.

Click here to return to our topical index of articles on High Performance Project Management.

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