Personal Traits of the Guerilla Project Manager

Project Management, especially Guerilla, is a lot about personality traits. So is it more beneficial to the Guerilla Project Manager to be introverted or extroverted? Control-freak or laissez faire? Risk adverse or risk taker?

While reading PM books such as the PMBOK seems like the Project Manager should be a geek, a control-freak and a risk-freak, my experience shows that traits such as communication, laissez faire and courage bring a lot more added value and genuine leadership to the project. For example, some book explains that you should develop elaborate plans and check them weekly with your team for progress. That makes you master of Microsoft Project and other Office tool but gives you less time for being with your team. The Guerilla Project Manager however develops instead some high level plans and then plans in detail for the next iteration; he spends the extra time communicating with the team and the customer and having daily, 15 minutes or ad hoc status meetings.

The PM theory argues for a moderate, linear control of the project. The Guerilla Project Manager will vary the level of control required based on the criticality of the situation, the people that are involved and their role in the project. An obvious example is to give complete freedom to someone who is constantly respecting their tasks; it is unnecessary to add the overhead of external control to a person that is controlling their own activity so well. Less obvious is that you should apply more control to the team member that is a bottleneck (other activities depend on them). Spotting a problem early and finding help here can really make the difference. Even more subtle is exerting control over your client. Their lack of responsiveness can drag the entire team in a delay and usually there is a difference in the pace that your team can sustain as compared with the pace that the client team can sustain. Usually the client progresses slower then you, and that is because your project is just one side activity among many urgent todos in their daily job. What strikes me is that many Project Managers don't see this as their problem; they will complain over and over again about this but do very little to gain power over the resources of the client and instead expect the client will somehow correct the situation by himself. This however never happens.

In a Risk Management class of 20 Project Managers, I scored as the only person with a risk appetite, while all the others scored as highly risk adverse. This showed me that Project Managers are inclined by the nature of their job to be more risk adverse then it is beneficial. The state-of-the-art project manager should have risks assessed and contingency plans in place for all important risks; the Guerilla Project Manager will accept risks as part of the project, will see that there is an opportunity in every risk and will sometimes uncover risks (e.g. transforming them into an issue) in order to solve some underlying problems that might be a lot more painful to discover later on. Techniques such as prototyping are good at doing this, but it takes courage to show your client a quarter of an application that is still full with bugs or a team that is insufficient. However, for the later for example, having the customer complaining on this will bring upper management attention, which should instead help you get more resources. Great rewards lay for those who are willing to take the risks.

To close up, extroverted is definitely more valuable in the Project Management than introverted. Control should be apply wisely, where the most sensible areas are, and courage is definitely more advisable then being risk adverse. Since most of us are former programmers that used to have some introverted, geek side; and since people still believe traits such as being extroverted and courageous are born, here are some articles to help you change your mind: How to go from Introvert to Extrovert and Whatever you fear you must face.


Personal Development for Smart People

As I was writing in an earlier post, Personal Development with its subtopic of Mental Toughness is not taught in any PM classes that I've encountered, and I believe it is important for any individual, and a lot more for a (Guerilla) Project Manager.

I have recently finished reading Personal Development for Smart People, by Steve Pavlina. I especially liked the chapters about Power and Courage. I believe Guerilla is a lot about claiming power and having the courage to do so. Steve argues the power is in all of us, and that when we don't claim it, we are actually using our power to defeat ourselves. That is an idea I strongly support, because I have seen many people (and have been myself sometimes) using their energy to complain about a given situation instead of trying to change it. They would spend (and I used to spend) endless hours giving opinions on what X or Y should do, in some cases X or Y being their managers or clients, when they could definitely change the situation themselves. I also agree that it takes courage to make the necessary changes because you might expose yourself to risks. It also takes courage and some experience to understand that after the failures from your past, you emerged as a better person, so there is gain in either winning or losing.

I also enjoyed the chapter about habits. Habits are sneaky things that remain hidden in the sense that people don't pay a lot of attention to them. Yet they affect in the most direct way a person's energy, mood, attitude, enthusiasm and productivity. Steve talks about getting up early, exercising, time wasting, addictions but also about techniques to conquer bad habits or to install healthy ones. I especially like his very unconventional 30-days trial technique which I believe to be very powerful.

30-days trial means install/banish a habit for 30 days and see how it feels. This technique can be a mind trick because it is easier to commit e.g. to 30 days without caffeine then to a life time. After the 30-th day, the benefits of being caffeine-free become so obvious that you don't want to go back; plus that the reflex of drinking coffee is gone. It can also be a trial-and-error strategy: you want to establish a new habit but you are not sure it is good for you. For instance, I have decided to become a pesco-vegetarian after a 30-days trial. I was worried that no meat would mean less energy, but much to my surprise it was the other way around, so after 30-days I never wanted to quit this diet. I also used the techniques of over killing and progressive training to give up coffee - except for the one in the morning, sugar and sleeping in late.

This book seems to resonate very well with me, especially since I tried to read a lot of self help crap that I found useless in the end. As the author intended, this is the book to give you epiphanies, moments to say "Gotcha!". I am not saying it should resonate with everybody, but I insist it is an area where a Project Manager should put a lot of effort and focus.