Small Business Insights

Project Management or Micro-Management: How to Tell What You’re Really Doing

When overseeing a project that you truly care about, it isn’t all that hard to slip from the role of project management, where you’re smoothly directing a well-oiled team towards their goal, to a micro-manager who is mired in every little intricacy, losing sight of the big picture and driving your coworkers nuts. It’s happened to many of us. But it can be avoided.

Good Project Management Is…

A project manager oversees an entire project from start to finish. They set and manage schedules, ensure that everything stays within budget, help their team segment out measurable, manageable tasks and milestones, and make sure that the right people are in place to do the work. A project manager shouldn’t be caught up in the actual completion of the project work itself. They make sure that everything is progressing as planned, and raise flags with team leaders, managers and stakeholders if problems arise.

Micro-Managing Looks Like:

This shifts when you start to get too deeply ingrained in the details of executing the project. This could mean overscheduling your team down to the hour, or breaking the project’s subtasks into step-by-step “here’s how to do it” directions. You should be giving each team’s unit a timeframe, milestones, and the expected result. Let them figure out how best to prioritize to achieve their goals – not deciding for them.

When it comes to managing the budget, you might become hyper-focused, counting every penny. You might fall into “penny-wise, pound-foolish”, where you end up blowing the budget because you didn’t foresee a larger consequence of penny pinching.

Ask Yourself These Questions

So, are you a micro-manager? Start by taking stock. Ask yourself how much of a project you’re tracking, and at what level of detail? How often are you checking in with the team, and is there a cadence to your status checks or are you in constant contact, asking for updates every hour? Do you want to just do the work yourself because it might be “easier”? Do you “redo” work that your team has done, because you can do it better? Or, are your fingers itching to get into the meat of the project itself? If that’s the case, then project management might not be the best fit for you. You might be better off on the execution team.

Tips to Great Project Management:

To stop from drifting into micro-managing, here are a few key practices to follow:

  • Set clear goals & communicate them. Create an easy-to-understand project plan with milestones. This living document will be the roadmap for your entire project team. They can check to see how they’re tracking against expectations. Basecamp and Google Sheets are two tools we love for project management collaboration.
  • Assign responsibility. You don’t need to own every piece. Your team should have accountability for their parts. At AAC, that means the design lead is responsible for making sure that the graphics are ready by deadline while the programming lead manages the developer team to meet their own production schedule within the larger project plan.
  • Meet regularly – but don’t attend every meeting. Regular meetings keep everyone on track and moving in the same direction, but the project manager shouldn’t be in every single project meeting. Schedule regular status meetings on a set cadence, maybe weekly or bi-monthly, depending on scope. Then, allow the team to have their own execution meetings to actually get the work done. You’ve already assigned responsibility (see #2), so it’s on each unit’s lead to stick to timelines and report back to you. Make it clear that you’re available between meetings for any questions or concerns.
  • Adjust your approach accordingly. When dealing with a senior team member, give them the freedom and authority they deserve to make their own decisions and manage expectations. They’ll appreciate that you’re keeping them organized and on schedule while letting them direct their own work. When dealing with more junior team members, remember that they might not be as clear on how to prioritize. Give them more specific instructions and more regular feedback – they’ll appreciate the guidance.
  • Raise your hand when things start to go off track. As project manager, you are ultimately steering the ship. Your team is going to be focused on the details of day-to-day work and won’t have the vantage point that you do. It’s up to you to recognize problems on the horizon and raise them to your manager, and to the team. That being said, your team members might also see problems coming and raise them to you. You should also escalate those concerns as needed.

If you remember these best practices, you’ll be able to manage projects smoothly without ever becoming the dreaded micro-manager.

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