The lazy project manager

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Posted by APM on 30th Jan 2013

APM Corporate Member Atkins kindly hosted this event at their Hub Facility in North Bristol which was attended by 75 members.

Even though we are all hardworking project managers, the title of Peter Taylors talk about how to be a lazy project manager has considerable appeal.  But of course there is more to being a lazy PM than just doing nothing as Peter explained in a very entertaining and humorous presentation.

Peter explained that being a lazy PM is about working smarter, not harder, quoting Robert Heinlein Progress is not made by early risers. It is made by lazy men trying to find easier ways to do something.

There is science behind laziness: the Pareto Principle; the 80:20 rule. There are only a few things that really help you to deliver project goals. The key is to identify these 20% and give yourself time to focus on them whilst avoiding the 80% non-productive rubbish. Prioritise your time based on importance and impact. Procrastination is a killer, so always tackle the nasty, difficult thing first.

There is also intelligence of laziness.  Peter quoted Prussian Field Marshall Moltke, who characterised his officers based on being lazy or diligent and stupid or smart. Officers who were lazy and smart were promoted, as they were most likely to use resources efficiently.

Peter described three stages of laziness through a project life cycle: the planning stage, the doing / executing stage and the end stage.  Most effort should be put in at the start, the planning stage, and the end, closeout. Euripedes: A bad beginning makes a bad end.

At the start of any project attention needs to be given to getting ahead of the game, anticipate potential problems and risks and plan for them. It is essential to manage the sponsor. Get to understand their concerns and issues through open dialogue. Plan how you will manage the creep, put change control systems in place and make sure the team knows how to use them. Avoid communication breakdown by planning a communications strategy and regularly reviewing it, check that it continues to meet peoples needs.  Research has shown that the top 2% of PMs are excellent communicators, using more face to face than electronic methods.

 If you have planned the start of a project well, the execution phase should be easier and allow some laziness!  Peter emphasised the need to have fun, to focus on the task, and also to focus on the people, to meet their personal development and career needs. When things do go wrong, whatever happens, dont panic.  Plan for crises, use risk management, have fall back plans. Allow time to deal with the 20% real problems.  Filter what is really important, prioritise and delegate.

Project closeout is often the Cinderella of the life cycle with people looking to rush off to the next new project. But it is critical that lessons are learnt to be applied for the next project. Insanity means doing the same thing you did in the past, but expecting a different result!  Facilitated learning from experience reviews throughout the project and especially during close out will help the team reflect, learn and continuously improve. Close out reviews are particularly important for organisational learning to change process and procedures.

In conclusion, to be a lazy PM requires some hard work. Planning at the start will reduce the possibility of nasty surprises during the execution stage, and increase the probability of project success. Taking time to review lessons throughout a project and especially at the end really helps you learn and develop better ways of managing projects and so helps you to be lazier on the next assignment.


Martin Gosden

SWWE Branch Chairman

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