“It looks like a micromanagement to me,” Corwin said just as we left the room.
“What’s the problem?” I asked.
“Micromanagement is a bad technique, isn’t it?” Corwin was surprised.
Micromanagement got a bad reputation.
It is a tool of evil project managers!
Only despotic leaders use it!
Nevertheless, I believe the micromanagement technique is a powerful tool.
Can you say a hammer is a bad tool?
In the wrong hands, it very well may be.
In this article, I want to show you how to use micromanagement to your advantage.
Definition of Micromanagement in Project Management
You, as a project manager, can easily get into micromanaging people.
It is when you put excessive control over the execution of the tasks you assigned to a person.
Feel the difference between assigning a task and delegating responsibilities for the task.
When assigning, you deprive your project team of the opportunity to self-organize.
Whenever possible, delegate responsibilities.
When you need to assign tasks – do it via your project management team, e.g., Team Leads.
And here is the Truth:
“When you do the work from the project scope yourself – you are micromanaging!”
Do you want to dive deeper into analyzing your micromanagement inclinations?
Check out the article from Workzone. It has “11 Signs of Micromanagement.”
Is Micromanagement a Bad Thing?
Think of it as sunbathing. In general, it is healthy. You do need to get sun exposure.
However, too much and you get a burn. Go in excess, and you may get serious health issues.
Micromanagement is a useful technique.
However, if you rely on it too much, you can run on one of these drawbacks.
1. Overwhelm and Lack of Scalability
You have eight working hours per day.
If you micromanage people, let’s say you will spend half an hour per day on one person. So, in total, you can fit about 16 persons under your direct control.
For sure, you can optimize it a bit and get to a higher level.
However, you will never be able to manage 50, 100, or more team members this way. You will become a bottleneck.
Here is the catch:
Now, you may manage small teams. It may look like micromanagement is a good technique to use.
You may not even recognize that you are micromanaging.
The problem is that when you get a bigger team you will not have enough experience and skills to delegate work and trust team members.
Start using micromanagement less now and get proficient with other approaches.
2. Indecisive Team Members
People whom you micromanage a lot become indecisive.
They rely on your input. They are afraid to take the initiative. They become workers, not creators. They lose confidence.
Why is it bad?
You are not using their talents and skills. You make continuous improvement impossible. Your project does not leverage the previous experience and new ideas of the people you hired.
“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
– Steve Jobs
3. Micromanagement and Morale
People have ambitions. They want to develop their self-esteem. People want to be valued.
Do you value people who can only do what you asked, exactly as you asked, even if it is outright wrong?
Micromanagement is bad for morale. Period.
4. Lack of Bigger Picture
The only person who should not work nose-down is you!
You are responsible to have a bigger picture of the project.
When you micromanage things – you cannot see it.
You are not working on predicting the future. You are not working with risks and opportunities. You don’t see several steps ahead.
In fact, lack of project management efforts is the biggest cause of project failure.
How on Earth can micromanagement be useful and powerful?
The Key to Powerful Micromanagement
There are four components to the successful application of micromanagement:
- Correct intentions. You need to apply it for a good reason with people in mind.
- You should have a clear goal. It’s like a micro project. It needs an objective and a deadline.
- The application should be short-termed. Days. Maybe weeks in some cases.
- Micromanagement should always ease-out. Start strong and release control as soon as possible.
3 Cases of Powerful Micromanagement on a Project
Let me show you how these four components work in real life.
Introducing a New Process or Workflow
In this case, I have a very clear and positive intention.
I want to reduce distractions for the team.
I want to give a team member the ability to work one to five days in a row without reporting the progress. Certain statuses in JIRA or VSTS (or any other tool) signal that the work is in progress without impediments.
I believe the team will benefit from this approach. Nevertheless, the team usually sees such workflows as bureaucracy at first.
First of all, I do explain the idea to the whole team showcasing the benefits. At least, I need to get their buy-in to “give it a try for a week”.
Next, I prepare materials to easy-out from micromanagement. Usually, it is a diagram.
The majority of the team is self-organized to follow the new process on day one. They just need a cheat sheet.
Then, I do go into micromanagement mode.
I do check up on the statuses in the tasks tracking system. When I see a wrong status, I talk with the team member.
And here is the tip:
Don’t assume that they made a mistake. Position it as if they need to double-check the correctness of the status or remaining estimate.
Those who follow the workflow – good! I try to maximize the promised benefits. They get autonomy and a distraction-free environment as much as possible.
The team members who cannot follow the new process, I work with them closely. Quite often, they need different arguments and benefits of the process. So, it’s just a bit more work here.
But there is a catch:
Usually, such team members are a source of critical feedback to your processes and workflows.
If it is not obvious how and why to use it – it is not a perfect one.
Don’t get frustrated with those people. Listen to them.
All in all, in a week, you may need to micromanage just a few people. After that, you do need to let go.
Working with an Inexperienced Team
An inexperienced team is another common case for micromanagement.
I can hear rumbling about “self-organization,” “mentoring,” “using their skills.”
If it is really the case, the team is inexperienced. Period.
They have nothing to self-organize to. You do need to:
- Show them the framework.
- Explain workflows.
- Develop ownership and responsibility.
- Create professional working ethics.
On the other hand, there are deadlines and expectations that you need to meet.
So, you will have to micromanage your way to success here.
Nevertheless, the four core principles should be present.
“We need to finish the project successfully” is a bad intention. It doesn’t serve your team members. You are feeding your fears.
So, in my case, I wanted to help them to keep their jobs.
Usually, it works this way.
If a junior-level engineer doesn’t develop and increase his or her performance, his career will be very slow. Quite possible in another place.
My idea was to micromanage people so they can reach their performance milestones.
I micromanaged the whole team for a few weeks. Then, two team members started to show leadership potential. They earned some authority in the team.
Most importantly – they required little of my control.
I ease-out on managing them. They continued to micromanage other team members for me.
And, yes, I do understand that it is not a perfect approach! But we are never on a perfect project.
The team naturally developed in a few months. They followed the lead, and soon micromanagement vanished on its own.
Getting Through Rapidly Changing Requirements
All project managers get in such a situation. Moreover, all of us start micromanaging when requirements change rapidly.
The idea is obvious we need to ensure that team members work on the correct tasks with correct requirements.
For sure, no one wants to redo the work. Or trash it at all.
I’m bringing this case for a reason!
The intention here is never correct.
At the deeper level, we always feel that the team will not self-organize when requirements change dramatically.
It is hard to overcome this lack of trust. The bigger your team – the harder it is.
So, just be aware of your micromanagement and of your intentions in such cases.
Ease-out as soon as practically possible.
Micromanagement in project management got a bad reputation.
Nevertheless, it is a useful technique when implemented correctly.
If you feel like you micromanage a lot, you need to fix it.
Delegation is a cure.
However, it is another article.