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personality clashes

3 Ways to overcome personality clashes

‘Why don’t you understand what I am saying? Why is this so hard to understand?’

You may have heard this, or will hear it in your life as a Project Manager. The reason you may be hearing it is that you think you understand perfectly, but the finished article is nothing like they had in their head. You think differently and the same words mean different things to both of you.

This article looks at the different personalities you will meet and how to manage them:

1 – The polar opposite personality

You say it should be ‘go’ they think ‘stop’, whatever you discuss this personality says the opposite. You are sure that it doesn’t matter what you said – ‘elephants can’t fly’ they would say ‘of course they can’ just to disagree.

Good news – the polar opposite is the easiest clash to deal with. Why? Because you both know there is a middle ground to move towards. How do you do that? Take the emotion and the ‘think’ out of everything you discuss and bring evidence. Evidence is the key to meeting in the middle, and you will find you were both wrong <audible gasp>. The world is not ‘go’ and ‘stop’ but more ‘go if it’s clear’ like traffic lights. As I said in 3 beginners mistakes in project management the evidence is key to removing the ‘you say tomato, I say electric toothbrush’ difference of opinion.

So bring the evidence and don’t approach this as ‘I say this’, but ‘the evidence tells us that…..’ and it removes both personalities out of the equation. Neither party has to be right or wrong as the evidence, if credible is going to be what you both use. Think of the evidence as the ‘third party’ in this relationship which allows everyone to form a considered opinion only on that and you will meet in the middle around what is best based on what we know, not what we think.

2 – The same personality

You might not believe this, but working with someone who is exactly the same as you can create all sorts of ding-dongs. Why? Because you, as a PM, are likely to be quite headstrong and want to be right. All PM’s do. It’s a thing. Anyhow, why is that a problem if the other personality is the same as yours? Well you think the same, and want the same, but somehow you say the same thing but disagree on the tiniest stuff, or the way one of you phrases something. It is like a table tennis game with yourself with the other side of the table flipped up. The harder you hit the ball the quicker it comes back to you, so you make life difficult for each other.

What to do, what to do…… Back off. Let the other personality ‘win’ a few where you don’t say ‘I think we are saying the same thing in different ways’ (as that will lead them to say ‘no we are aren’t), you say – ‘yes, I agree’. Forget the small stuff, and try and dig in to the comments and see that they are the same as yours, albeit it their words. Keep saying ‘I agree’ when you know that it is the same thing, and you will build a bridge that lets the other person know you are trying, and they will build a bridge from the other side and find a middle ground.

Life Fact: This works in most but not all cases. In that scenario where they continue to disagree, the other members of the team will see that individual as being ‘a problem’ and not the pair of you, and that will be dealt with in other ways.

3 – Different day different personality

Uh-oh. This is interesting. Yesterday you were like two peas in a pod where everything you discussed you agreed on and everything was great. Today, it’s like they are being paid to disagree with you on everything.

What happened? There may be something going on in their personal life that is affecting the way they are in meetings, discussions, on a daily or even hourly basis. Cut them some slack. They may have valid points, and just because you think everyone is agreed that the road looks like A to B, this person may have thought a little harder and want to check it. Take the challenge they bring as an opportunity to check. This personality makes a good auditor to ensure you don’t merrily sail in to troubled waters just because you thought you were all agreed.

They may have something going on in their life that makes them difficult one day and easy the next. Life is more important than work, so give them some breathing room. Don’t be afraid to have a conversation with them 1:1 and ask if everything is ok, or you have indadvertedly done something that has upset them. Looking after your team is No.1 priority and people like to be looked after, respected and listened to. You never know you may have left them out of something they felt they should have been in, or their boss has said something, or just that they are unhappy generally. A gentle conversation can provide bountiful rewards so don’t be reluctant to talk. Don’t ask anything personal, just if everything is ok.

BONUS

People like praise. In all scenarios, but the ones above especially, give the person a shout out in a meeting:

‘Molly (or whoever) made a great point the other day about…..’

‘Imran said (so and so) and he is absolutely bang on…..’

‘I could not agree more with Gina on those points’ (don’t repeat them as it looks like you are trying to make them sound like yours)

In all cases, as the PM you need to make your team work. YOU need to make the team work, the slicker the team, the more people enjoy it, the more the team enjoys it, the easier the work, the easier the work, the quicker and better you will perform.

3 beginners mistake in project management

3 Beginners mistakes in project management

Everyone starts somewhere. Whether its your first job, change of career, moving in to your niche as a Project Manager after ‘doing’ for 20 years in the job, it can be daunting and exciting in equal measure. So if you are just about to make the leap or have just started, here are three of my top tips after doing Project and Programme Management for 20 years.

Number 1: Too eager

Don’t try too hard. I know, I know, you want to make your presence known, want to make the first impression, want to put your knowledge to good use as soon as possible. But don’t. Seriously. Instead when starting a new project go in to read-only mode. That means listen as much as possible and learn what people are saying around you. Listen to their thoughts, their gripes, the things that are going well, their thoughts about the project and take notes.

The temptation is to ‘go in hard’ and start saying we need documentation, a plan, and need to know whats going on. Projects don’t work like that. They are iterative, so you only really know whats going on by listening to each and every person and taking their chunks of knowledge and seeing what the next person thinks, then the next person, and keep going around until it all starts to form a picture.

Number 2: Too complex

When you know enough to come out of read-only mode in to write mode and start capturing something in some tasks, keep it simple. Don’t worry too much about the detail of every task and what is involved. Look at some big blocks of the stages you think are required to get from here to the end. Something like ‘discover requirements, agree costs, agree scope, build, test, signoff, release’. Put some dates as weeks, months or quarters around these (depending on the size of the project). Most projects have an end date to work to so work backwards from the end and ask the team how long roughly for the sections and move them around to fit. This starts to shape the sections up and then you can work to the next level. If you get in to the detail at the start you can get lost down rabbit-holes.

Number 3: Taking the Boss’ word

A lot of projects you may be handed with the Boss’ timescales or costs and you work away to make the project fit both. Don’t. Evaluate the project and see if it fits what the Boss originally thought. The reason you are the PM and are working in that role is to validate the reality of the project. No-one will thank you when you have half of the house built to the timescale and cost. Bad news is best served as quickly as possible. Strap in for the inevitable pushback to you with the line from the Boss; ‘we worked out it would take 4 weeks and cost £100. Well guess what – you are not the PM and you have not worked out with the Subject Matter Experts (SME’s – i.e. the project team) what it really will take in terms of time and cost. I have. And they say it will take 12 weeks and cost £3,000. It can be scary to tell your Boss that they are wrong, but trust me on this. They are used to it, and they will respect the evidence you have collected to show your working out. I have seen PM’s standing in front of the Programme Board saying they are late, the costs are now ‘x’ instead of ‘y’ because they did not push back at the start and were merrily delivering to an impossible brief.

Bonus

I cheated. In reality there are loads of mistakes you can make, but hopefully if you check-in on the other articles you can get some information to keep you in the green and out of the red.

I mentioned evidence in Number 3. Evidence is key. Do your homework. Speak to the people in the team, ask them how long, how much, the risks of things going wrong, maybe add some extra ‘fat’ in to the figures to give you some cover. Declare the fact that your evidence is the figures from the team, but with an extra 20% as costs can go up, or these are estimates, or whatever. Going in to get any sort of approval without evidence is PM suicide. Don’t think that the phrase ‘the team’ does not carry any weight either, they are the SME’s in the Organisation and your bosses employ these SME’s so their expertise carries lots of weight to pull together times and costs and how confident you are as a collective to get the thing done.

I will go in to presenting in another article, but have your evidence ready if it is needed, but don’t make things complicated with ‘Dave said the cost of the materials from 4 different suppliers is £25 from A, £22 from B….’. Not necessary or desired, bring it to the top level – costs are X on the estimates. When anyone asks ‘and how have you go these’ just show the source of where you have collated them to show there is something solid behind it. Just showing the evidence is enough, no-one reads it, they just want to know you have done your homework!

What is a Project Manager?

What is a Project Manager?

The Project Manager is the person responsible for making everything work to time, quality and budget.

The Project Manager is not empowered to make decisions, that is a key point to make very clearly at the start, and should be your starting point when setting up a project. Decision-making falls to other Subject Matter Experts or SME’s in the team.

You do not manage the team in the way a Line Manager manages a team; i.e. pay, terms & conditions where the Manager sits above their team in pay, grade, responsibility. Imagine the PM the same grade, pay and status but whose job it is to pull everything together from inside the team.

OK, so this is weird; the PM does not have a rank, and does not directly manage the team. So how on earth does a PM manage the work?

Good question. The PM is empowered to manage the output of the project. Anything the PM needs (within reason) from the team, the PM can ask for. In reality the PM works with the team as individuals or together to agree what is required, when and to what quality.

Isn’t everything the best quality?

Weirdly no. There is a mythical triangle that exists only in PM heads that they use at every opportunity and laugh amongst themselves about. It is the Time – Cost – Quality triangle. Like any triangle, if you push one angle up, the other two decrease. The point of the triangle is that you if you want something done in a shorter time, you have to increase the cost, decrease the quality or both as the angles in a triangle can only ever add up to 180 degrees. So if you want something quick and cheap, chances are you going to be producing the bare minimum no frills. if you want something fancy, it make time more time or money or both. There is no getting away from this law, no matter what the project.

How do you know how long, or how expensive, or to what quality to produce something to?

There is no golden rule here. It comes with experience, and this brings me on to a niche. The best PM’s tend to be those that have a niche, and that normally means they have a background of ‘doing’ the thing before project managing it. The best Engineering PM is likely to be an Engineer who has hung up their Engineering kit but has the knowledge to size up tasks, same with software, or any sector. Understanding what the project requires, and then sizing up the time, resource and estimated cost is something you learn from having done. So a niche in the industry you want to PM in is the ideal starting point.

How do I start a project?

If you are starting from absolute scratch where no-one in the Organisation has done any preparation about the project at all (which is unusual as someone normally has a ‘brilliant idea’ that gets turned in to a project), then the starting place is to ask “what are we trying to achieve?”. It could be more sales, cheaper production, bringing in specialist resources, building a house, anything. But the tasks, the cost and the time are not what you are achieving, they are steps to estimate what it will take to achieve.

OK, so lets say we want to build a house and thats what we agree is what we are trying to achieve, then what?

Then it is over to the PM to do a number of things and PM’s love this bit as they get to meet people and talk a lot to the people who have an interest on how it turns out (the stakeholders), the people paying for the house (finance), and the people who are designing it to the needs and budget of the team. I am skimming of course, and will go in to planning 101 at a later date, but these talks go around and around, adding chunks of information from one place and putting it in front of the next set of people who in turn give you more info until you have a complete agreed plan.

Sounds simple….

It isn’t. There are normally people who want to do the thing, people who don’t want to do the thing, and people who change their mind on a conversation by conversation basis. It is akin to juggling cats (don’t try this at home). But that is why the PM exists; to bring the people together, sort out what the project is, isn’t, what it will cost that someone is willing to finance, to the satisfaction of all. Then the PM puts in to practice the build, test and release stages to hand over that lovely house. One stage I left out is that the PM almost always goes on holiday at release, seems to be a ‘thing’.

3 Beginners mistakes in project management

3 Beginners mistakes in project management

Everyone starts somewhere. Whether its your first job, change of career, moving in to your niche as a Project Manager after 'doing' for 20 years in the job, it can be daunting and exciting in equal measure. So if you are just about to make the leap or have just...

What is a Project Manager?

What is a Project Manager?

The Project Manager is the person responsible for making everything work to time, quality and budget. The Project Manager is not empowered to make decisions, that is a key point to make very clearly at the start, and should be...

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