Are you a Project (Micro) Manager?

Recently, I asked an audience of project and program managers to raise their hands if they liked to be micromanaged. Not surprisingly, no one did. Then I asked them to raise their hands if they were micromanagers. A few honest people did. After I prodded them a bit, quite a few more put their hands up.

Why is it that people don’t like to be micromanaged, but when they become managers that’s exactly what they do?

Look, I’m not a psychiatrist, but I find this contradictory behavior a tad strange. I think project managers mircromanage because 1.) they don’t have confidence in the ability of the people who work for them; in short, they believe that their team members don’t have what it takes to get the job done; and, 2.) they hold the view (perhaps subconsciously) that no one could do the job as well as they themselves could do it so they need to stay on top  of them to make sure it’s done right (meaning, the project manager’s way).

What signals do you send when you micromanage team members? I think it’s simple: you don’t trust them. You don’t think they can do the job, or worse, you let them know you think they need to be constantly prodded to get the job done. In short, you become worse than a guard in a watchtower monitoring their every move. Hey, even prisoners get to exercise in the prison yard! Not a pretty picture.

If you find yourself micromanaging people, the good news is there’s something you can, and should, do about it. For example, examine the number of reports and reviews you have with your team and eliminate some while keeping a set schedule of critical meetings. Make sure you and your reports agree as to what reports are required and when.

If you are being micromanaged confront your manager. Probe as to why he or she believes it’s necessary for you to be subject to such constant supervision and monitoring. Describe how you can provide them with the information they need without having to resort to such counterproductive tactics. I once told a manager of mine that he was acting in a way that indicated he was almost ashamed of me as one of his direct reports. Believe me, he never expected me to say that, and his behavior changed immediately.

Reasonable people will understand your feelings and make attempts to change. Some people, however, aren’t reasonable. If you’re working for a Theory X manager in Theory Y clothing, you’re in for a struggle. Not to say it can’t be done, but it’s going to take a bit longer than expected.

So, to answer my own question, are you a Project (Micro) Manager? If you don’t like to be micromanaged why in the world would someone else want to be?

11 thoughts on “Are you a Project (Micro) Manager?

  1. Sir

    Good article as always , perhaps you also belong to the exceptional species. !!

    Honest I also micro manage but then it was picked up based out from my own ex boss whom i used to report earlier & also whom i bench mark till date. I think culture also plays quite a bit of a role in this “micro management” business.

    My ex-boss was a single lady , so that much more commitment to work & of course a passionate leader too , as such no great management techniques of the modern world but then when it came to delivery she was always # 1 , all men a distant second or third – so where is the grouse.

    To summarize:

    Is it not all about delivery to top management ??? Of course we all can argue & counter argue but then a streak of eccentricity always helps , more so being a PM.

    ” Normal is boring ” & “Some are equal , Some are more equal” being my philosophy if in PM business or else it would not be possible to deliver, of course i am not referring to the exceptional cases / achievers ( read PM’s) though which is another story for another day.


  2. Thanks for your thoughts Basskar. Yes, some folks are really exceptional. Perhaps your former boss was so great because she felt she had to prove herself to her male counterparts. Oftentimes that’s the case for women and other minorities. They go the extra mile to prove certain critical stereotypes wrong. Anyway, I’m sure she was a great inspiration to you.

  3. As always a great post. I think everyone at some point in their careers comes face to face with this situation. Its important to speak up and show the micro manager your skills and expertise.

  4. Leroy, I like most of your articles since they are related to practical aspects of management at work place.I agree with what you have mentioned and would like add my comments about Micromanager.

    Micro management character is result of culture, personality and the past experiences of how an individual was groomed.Micro Managers don’t have credibility, trust of their team members and lack interpersonal skills.I always thought folks who micro manage is because of the the following reason

    1>They are not aware of scope of work and capabiity of resouce
    2>They cannot think of alternative options if they have a problem at hand
    3>They cannot set expectations and communicate effectively to top management

    I like to respond to the first comment by basskar about being #1 in delivery becoz of micro management.If the entire team feels the same then go for it else there is a bigGER issue within the team. Please share your thoughts.

  5. Thanks for your comments Mohan, and glad you like to read my posts from time to time. Well, it’s hard to argue with success. If Basskar’s manager was indeed a micromanager yet she was number one in delivery one thing is fairly certain: her managers were very pleased with her work. But I would have to wonder if her team members felt the same way. Maybe they enjoyed working with her and understood why she adopted the management style she did. Maybe others just tolerated it; and a few others probably ran for the back door when another project came around and she wanted them to work on it. In the end, micromanagement is a relative concept isn’t it. You might think someone is micromanaging and I might think they have a great style of management. One’s management style will not suit everyone. But I think when there is an overwhelming majority of folks complaining about one’s style it probably is time to engage the services of a good coach.

  6. Sir

    If you go to the root of any problem generally , one would notice there would be a lot of grey areas in scope and if one does not micro manage – teams would finish each of their work professionally as per defined scope & those grey areas would be left out due to which the end deliverable cannot be deemed completed. ( as for defining the scope so as to avoid grey areas is another ball game – coz there would be some dirty/low end work embedded in the scope which the weakest will have to do by default – some are equal and some are more equal).

    Here the micro management style helps , since the PM’s who micro manage are bothered only about delivery and all other things are insignificant – one can still micro manage and have a BIG picture thinking , of course easier said than done.

    Also , to an extent micro management is good, so as to keep the office politics in control or else each of the teams would be gunning to settle scores b/w themselves & things would be in an endless state of near completion.

    To summarize:

    Closure is an art in projects & very few are experts really , most of project work is half done , almost done but never completely done, here comes micro management into picture in real world. I thought we all knew the “devil is in the details” so what are we complaining about.

    Hope this helps.


  7. Very thought-provoking as always LeRoy- thank you. As you mention, many micromanagers just don’t see or recognize this behavior in themselves. It’s tough to look in the mirror sometimes, as I know only too well!!

    I’ve worked for a few micromanagers in my career to date, and they have almost universally reacted poorly to the very notion that they should alter their style or approach in any way. Some of those managers were clearly lacking in self-confidence, and saw territorial threats where none existed. The most influential and effective manager I’ve had to date allowed me the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them, and took their role as mentor and coach seriously. If companies and organizations throughout the world took succession planning more seriously, and managers were rewarded for developing and nurturing talent, perhaps we’d see less micromanagement??

  8. Nice to hear from you Liam, and thanks for commenting. Like you, I’ve worked with many folks who have virtually little if any capacity for introspection (or maybe they do and don’t like what they see!). The fact that you notice behaviors in yourself that needed changing is a mark of real professional; someone who is constantly looking for ways to improve. For many, hiding their deficiencies behind a veil or veneer of hubris, or worse, condescending behavior, is the only way to try to bully their way through the world. In fact, their debilitating weakness is the lack of any ability to acknowledge and work on their weaknesses as a manager or leader. I know what my weaknesses are, I admit them to people, and I honestly try to get better. Sometimes I do, and sometimes its a struggle. As a great colleague of mine, Jim Foreman, once said “one foot in front of the other, one day at a time.” You can’t fix everything at once, but if you keep on truckin’ towards the goal, at some point you’re bound to get there.

  9. Liam, It was nice to see that you have added some more typical characteristics of micro manager like low self confidence, likes details from others but not willing to provide themselves and, don’t like succession planning. The only way such folks change is presssure , influence from upper management and when they are asked to deliver big projects. Managing people is special art and science ,since I have seen folks going all out to help their managers

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