2 min read

Out of Control

Most project managers think they should have total control of  their projects. They feel as though they have some sort of universal responsibility for the team, the client and the process. On some level, they do! But when it comes down to it, the responsibility is on a very high level. On the ground level, there are so many things that a PM cannot control. After all, we manage projects, we don't control them. Combined teams control projects, and each member of the team contributes to its success.

You want control, don't you?

As a PM, maybe your desire to control comes from a good place, because you think that if you can keep an eye on everything, all will go well. You want to be at the center of the project and know what's happening at all times so you can jump in and solve issues for your team. You want to save them the time so they can focus on what's important to their roles--designing or coding. That's completely fair. Asking to be involved in all project decisions is not control: it's setting expectations for good project communications. That's not control; that's good project management.

Your approach can make your simple desire to be involved feel like a ploy for control. So think about how you're asking for that involvement--make sure that it's known that you're asking to help. The way you communicate with your team can truly make a difference between how you--and the role of project manager--is perceived on a team. But remember: actions speak louder than words! If you're saying you'll help, then help. Or, know when to recruit help, or just take a step back. As a PM it's sometimes difficult to distinguish what you should do, what you can do, and what you shouldn't do on a project. Just because you can do something, it doesn't mean you should!

For instance, if a design comes through that I'm not fond of, I can offer my opinion. But I know I shouldn't, because in most cases, the design aesthetic has absolutely nothing to do with my personal opinion. If I don't love it, I'll keep my mouth shut. At the same time, if I am reviewing that design and see something that will not make the clients happy (like a typo, or an "unlawful" treatment of a logo based on brand guidelines), I can say something about it and I should. So I will, because it will better the project.

Giving up the feeling of control will make you better.

Part of being a better project manager is knowing when to contribute to ideas and when to jump in and solve a problem. Owning all things PM-related is a good start--you know you can control tangible things like project plans and budgets. Contributing to ideas and providing an opinion on the project make you a part of a creative team. Conversely, asking for opinions on things like the process or plan will help you. If you wrangle for control or try to dictate a process or plan, you'll immediately lose respect.  Again, the collective team is responsible for a project's success.

Personally, I prefer to craft a project approach and present it to the team as a starting point. From there, we'll work together to hone it and make it "ours". I'll own the creation of the plan, but take comfort in knowing that my team is behind the process. If they weren't, I would not be comfortable. I think the same goes for design--if the entire team is on board, we're stronger for it.

Now that you know I'm not a control freak, tell me about your thoughts on project ownership? Is your team invested in owning the project together and share the burden of the project deliverables, or are you a lone ranger PM? What do you own, and why?