The high cost of not managing — Part 1
This is the first of a three-part series on problematic project management and steps that could be done to create a healthier and more productive team environment. The following article highlights some real-life encounters to demonstrate the effects poor management can create to teams, individuals, and the negative impact in the pursuit for work-life balance.
With the Great Resignation still ongoing, albeit at a slower pace from a year ago, it’s time to talk about poor management; specifically poorly managed projects. Communication is important in cross disciplinary design teams, and especially during the switch for many to a hybrid/remote work environment. While there is plenty of technology that can provide the tools necessary to facilitate meetings, share information, and produce work, the problems that show up in projects are a result of poor coordination, lack of communication, undefined roles, unclear direction, misdirection, and an absence of support and resources. Another topic that isn’t discussed much is the impact of toxic managers and their effect on the cycle of a disengaged and transient staff. All of these add up in costs for both employee and company.
Poor Coordination and Lack of Communication:
It seems reasonable to assume that project teams will have a project manager who will meet the necessary responsibilities of managing a team and keeping a project moving forward. These don’t necessarily happen with what on appearance seems like a fully operating team.
One of the biggest problems in projects that can cause not only internal team conflict and affect project development is the lack of coordination along with unclear and inconsistent communication. Project managers are to manage the scope of work for the entire project to ensure that deliverables are met timely and to scale, and satistfies the expectations of clients and stakeholders.
When a project manager lacks the ability or consideration to communicate to their team members, it is a problem for the following reasons:
- A project manager who does not share information to a team member is not allowing that team member to perform their responsibilities to the best of their skills and expertise.
- If a project manager makes the decision to complete a task that affects a team member’s scope of work, it is communicating to the team member that their contribution or area of work is not valued. Anyone can essential do their job.
- And when a project manager assigns a task but doesn’t follow up with next steps, then team members are left stranded to figure out how to coordinate amongst themselves, not knowing if it aligns with their company’s best practices or if it’s what their project manager would want.
Undefined roles and being led in the wrong direction:
A common phrase found in job posts is the requirement that job seekers are “comfortable with ambiguity”. In many work settings and projects, there will be unknowns. It is why ensuring that a workable process of design and development is necessary throughout the project lifecycle. When something unexpected shows up, which can and will happen, having a framework on how to address it while keeping things on track is key.
- Every team member must understand their role and responsibilities for the specific project. This is especially important when coordinating with consultants. Every team member must manage their time, and knowing what they are to do and ultimately deliver is important.
- A project manager who withholds information and gives baseless assignments to keep a team member occupied, in order to hold onto creative control, is not respecting the person(s) on their team and manipulating someone’s professional development. It’s an abusive practice that is common among toxic managers.
- When team members are given busy work in order for the project manager to spend time working on the project independently, it is informing the team that their time is not valued and their only purpose in the company is to offer administrative support.
Manipulative tactics and toxic leadership:
- Under the disguise of mentorship, a manipulative project manager will load up one team member with work assignments and offer no support, while leaving another team member with nothing to do. This tactic is multifold in creating a display of favoritism, pitting team members against each other, but ultimately, it’s for the project manager to get what they want, which is controlling the direction and outcome of deliverables.
- Project managers who are guided by being in control will misdirect team members in order to not have another voice influencing the project. Whether unconscious or intentional, misdirection stalls progress and harms team morale and trust.
- In this current awareness of needing more diversity and inclusion in the workplace, it’s not uncommon to have someone in a position of authority to not only misunderstand their own prejudices but to place their own struggles and career needs as priority over the goals of their team members; without understanding their own privilege, insecurities, and biases.
One example that I will share is a time working with a female project manager, who has her own established history of project successes and many years of experience built over time, trial, and error. She was someone who presented herself as supportive of women achieving career advancements. But she was also someone who practiced the tactics mentioned above. For some project managers, mentoring only extends to a superficial level of cheerleading. For this project manager, her privilege and selfishness clouded any ability to have genuine understanding and connection with her team of minority designers.
The role of a project manager shouldn’t be seen as a less appealing or less creative role than a designer, nor should experienced designers automatically be moved into a managing role when they haven’t the interest nor ability to carry out the responsibilities. Ineffective project leadership can still deliver a project but the efforts are entirely on a team of individuals overextended from carrying out their responsibilities through an infinity loop of piecemeal task management. Projects are under developed, with a process more complicated than required, outspending available time and budget, and draining talent resources who then make the decision to seek more fulfilling work elsewhere.
In Part 2 of this series, I will discuss a few methods that can be done to improve design process, project management, and engaging team members.