The Wisdom of Project Management Maxims and the Importance of Balance

In reading the project management maxims from Chapter 10, I was reminded of the importance of finding balance when serving as a project manager.

Maxim One: You can’t do it all and get it all done – projects usually involve a vast web of relationships.

When managing a project, equally important as the question of what has to get done is the question of who is going to do it. Project managers who focus on the list of tasks at the expense of the resources needed to complete those tasks often find themselves behind schedule and over budget. Without the cooperation of all stakeholders, projects are likely to fail. Even if a resource is assigned to a project, you will not likely get their best effort unless relationships are established centered on common goals. I have seen project managers attempt to use position power rather than influence to disastrous effect.  Recognizing you cannot do it alone will help you focus on balancing the “what” along with the “who” of a project, leading to better project results.  Establishing clear expectations of how a project will be managed will help maintain balance. In the article “10 Best Practices for Successful Project Management”, Tom Mochal notes the importance of ensuring “the project team and all stakeholders have a common understanding of how the project will be managed”.

Maxim Two: Hands-on work is not the same as leading – more pressure and involvement can reduce your effectiveness as a leader.

This too is a matter of finding balance. Project managers who simply direct from on high are less effective than those who know enough about the project and the work being done to speak from a position of credibility. Making requests without understanding the impact of the request on those expected to do the work leads to resistance amongst the project team.   On the other hand, if project managers become daily contributors, they lose the vantage point necessary to enable them to effectively manage the project. Project managers who are willing to contribute at critical moments in a project earn the respect of the team and help ensure the success of a project. Going beyond that makes a project manager one of the team and not a leader, thereby reducing the effectiveness of the position.

What’s important to you likely isn’t as important to someone else – different groups have different stakes (responsibilities, agendas, and priorities) in the outcome of a project.

You have to balance the needs of all stakeholders; those you report to regarding the project, those who will benefit from the project, and those you need to get the work done.  I have seen project managers focus the majority of their attention on their project sponsor while ignoring the other stakeholders.  In the short run, their close relationship with the sponsor is viewed as positive. However, as other stakeholders became disconnected and the quality of effort and work product suffers, the attention paid to the project sponsor did not outweigh the lack of project results.  Communicating with all stakeholders at each stage of the project helps ensure all stakeholders’ needs are recognized and leads to engagement in project outcomes.

8 thoughts on “The Wisdom of Project Management Maxims and the Importance of Balance

  1. Great write up Bob! I agree that maintaining balance on all of these aspects is super important! I especially like Maxim One and Two. I feel these have to be stressed over and over because they are such important aspects of project management.

  2. I have noticed that a common goal is very important to any team project. I usually ask, when the group is being formed “we all want A’s right?” results from this question are positive and set the precedent that we want to the best we can be on whatever project has to be done. My personal observation of good leaders and leaders that people like to work for acknowledge that being the leader or project manager isn’t just a fancy title. What it really entails is that, as the leader, you take on more responsibilities whether it motivating your group, scheduling what we have to do, and contributing more if tasks can’t be perfectly divided among the group. It great to come up with maxims they are a good way to remember standards for action and how to lead groups.

  3. This is a very good article. It shows how crucial is to choose right people for the right position. The balance is needed in every aspect of our lives, and finding it and managing the project can make be very difficult to do so. Project management is a very important role within the organizations, and the person should have necessary skills. Such as leadership, strategy, and communication.
    I like your maxim two. There should be a balance between telling people what to do, and being disconnected with the project itself, and being too much of a colleague than a manager. It made me think of a principle defined by Frederick W. Taylor. According to his theory, managers should have close and friendly relationship with their workers, and at the same time they should help, encourage, and plan the work accordingly. Thanks to collective collaboration, workers are able to perform their tasks efficiently, and are able to satisfy range of people involved in the projects.

  4. Great post! I find maxim two to stick with me most. Sometimes when working on a project a leader might want to take over some of the work because they may feel that the group wouldn’t do it the way he/she wants it done. This would then lead to the group slacking and having different goals. Which then might lead the PM to maxim one and taking on more responsibility than he/she should.

  5. This was an insightful piece of philosophy that all project managers should keep in mind. I find that all of the aforementioned maxims are connected with the way a project leader relates to their group. Division of labor is key to delegation, and delegation is the cornerstone in completing projects on time. We can see that delegating responsibility is important, but if it is ineffective, that is, project managers are forced to undertake some of the duties given to their subordinates, then they sacrifce their lookout for ground level, and this completely defeats the primary responsibility of a project manager, which is guidence. Finally, maxim one and three are very similar in that it is important to have designated responsibilities, but it is equally important for a leader to keep their subordinates together and united in the pursuit of one goal. This, I feel, goes hand in hand with havin g a relationsip with group members.

  6. I found that Maxim 2 effectively explained how a project manager should maintain a balance in their role as a leader. As I used to work in retail, there were many projects during the changing of seasons that required a leader (department supervisor) to set up a strong plan and execution. I noticed that if the supervisor only gave demands and with little demonstration, a project took way longer. I believe it is important for leaders to not only lead, but lead by example to a certain extent.

  7. This post was a good read, I agree with many of the main points of this article. When it comes to maxim one, I totally agree with the notion that projects involve a web of relationships. One cannot do it all, making it important assign the right role to the right person. In maxim two, I think that occasionally managers assign a task and don’t understand the impact of the request on the person who has to complete the task. The person who has to complete this task is usually upset that he or she was assigned the task. Finally, I believe it is difficult for the project manager to please everyone involved with the project. Whether, it is employees, stakeholders, or sponsors. There are many variables to each project and not everything always goes as planned. Project managers that can make everyone happy tend to be quite successful in the long run.

  8. To comment on your final point, I agree you must communicate with all stakeholders, but for an additional reason. Stakeholders are the owners of the company and who you owe your work to. It is a very simple idea, but working in this type of manner seems to always keep the a person respected. In my time working for different companies, I have come to notice that people in the company who seem like they are always agreeing with everyone end up holding little trust. In other words, trying to be everyone’s friend might do that for you, but it won’t make you their most respected coworker. Instead, if you consistently act in the best interest of the company (stakeholders), some people might not agree with you and like you at moments, but you will retain their respect.

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