Making a Project Manager’s Work-Life Miserable

You might have noticed in previous posts that I occasionally mention the entertaining and wise writings of Scott Berkun. His book, Making Things Happen: Mastering Project Management (Theory in Practice) is an experience-based trip through managing a project. His other writings and presentations offer wisdom couched inside a great sense of humor and wrapped with a touch of cynicism. When he recently posted on the topic titled, How to torture your project manager. I could not resist.

I won’t spoil the entire post here, but I selected a couple good whammies and then let my mind wander over tactics and strategies that can give a project manager ulcers or at least ruin his or her day. So, here are a couple of Scott’s key observations:

  • Never give specific odds or probabilities. Always make ambiguous commitments like “Probably,” “we may be able to do that” or “it’s possible.”
  • Do not disagree directly when your manager makes a proposal or suggests an action. Wait until you are both in the presence of their boss, or bosses boss, and intensely disagree then.

Here are additional tricks of the torturer’s trade based on my observations and experience:

  • Never answer a project manager’s question directly. Always add caveats, conditions, or a list of concerns.
  • Alternatively, agree to do anything the project manager asks, without telling them how long it will take or how much effort is in involved. (They should know enough to ask- right?)
  • When working on problem solving during a staff meeting, continue to suggest that more study is needed before the question can be answered. Suggesting a gold-star committee to work on the problem and report back can add weeks of delay to the project schedule.
  • Wait until the last minute (or after) to tell your PM you are running late on finishing a task.
  • Do not ask for help with a problem until you are at least a week behind schedule.
  • Save up some really good or bad news for staff meeting with your PM’s boss.  Your PM will be glad you shared.
  • During staff meeting repeatedly change the subject to something of personal interest to the project manager. This is the same strategy you used in school to get a professor talking about politics in order to steer him away from a hard differential equations assignment.
  • Ask your previous project manager what they would do in a certain situation. Then use that as a defense when talking with your current project manager.

Goodies in the same vein from Rafael Mumme’s article, 20 Things That Drive Web Developers Crazy

  • Fill out your time sheets at the end of the week, so the PM won’t know until Monday that the project is over budget.
  • Play “catch me if you can” to get your timesheet filled out. Mention that while you’re filling out your time sheet you’re not working. “For bonus points ask how long you should add into your timesheets for the task of filling out your timesheets.”
  • Don’t tell us when you have completed a task, wait until we ask.
  • Mention at least once a week that no one uses Windows or Internet Explorer anymore — despite the analytics

Share your favorite stories of how to torment a project manager.

3 Responses to “Making a Project Manager’s Work-Life Miserable”

  1. Deepak Says:

    Nice Article Bruce. As a project manager, I came across some of these situations. Though handling the technical projects, I still need to depend on the technical staff assigned to me for details. Usually, I dont receive complete information which makes decision making a challenge.

    This article helped me to think from engineering staff’s perpective and also to plan better.

  2. Bruce McGraw Says:

    Glad it helped you reflect! It was kind of a fun way to tell people what drives me crazy!!

  3. Jack Says:

    I think I’ve encountered most of these in the past. Maybe a list of how a PM can drive the developers nuts would be a good follow-up… As a ex-developer, I love messing with poor estimating practices. I once made a chief architect implode by solving a 10 week delay problem inside the team meeting using pseodo code. When they object simply say “I know you guys are really smart and can translate this pseodo code into java, php, C, etc.” They either have to admit you’re right or that they are not smart…

    If you’re a OM of developers then you absolutely MUST learn how to write some basic pseodo code to express the logic you’re proposing. Now if you’ve never been a developer that’s a bigger challenge. With infrastructure guys, you need to know how to draw proper network diagrams. Much of the network config issues can also be expressed with pseodo code.

    Have fun messing with your team!!!


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