The Lab Rat is the team member that scurries around from location to location looking for morsels of cheese. Sorry, information. You’ll find them hanging out at the desks of their pals, next to the coffee machine, or out at the smoking area, even when they don’t smoke.
They’re not really that keen in doing any work, they are more interested in finding out who’s been doing what, with whom and when. They’ll be looking to spend their days keeping themselves busy chasing down tasty morsels of gossip instead of getting your project delivered.
Obviously, on the surfact this really isn’t a great thing for you, as you care passionately about getting your project delivered. But all is not lost if you happen to have a Lab Rat on your team, you just need to know how to manage them.
First of all you need to manage their workload to a level that you are getting an acceptable amount of work out of them; after all you’re paying for them and if they’re not delivering, you’ll not be having any of that.
They’re your eyes and ears on the street.
Then you need to take advantage of their personal network. Use them to keep you appraised of what’s happening on other projects, with other managers and keep yourself ahead of the competition when it comes to soon-to-be-available resources, potential budget-cuts, political in-fighting, etc. All the things that you may be able to use to your advantage on delivering your project.
Have you been in a meeting and someone starts using buzzwords when they speak?
Do they use them repeatedly, even stringing them together to draw attention to their awareness?
Do they use them out of context?
If so, you may be in the presence of a Jargonaut. These guys fiegn knowledge of a subject by using jargon, often with amusing affect when in the presence of people who actually understand the context of the terms.
In days gone by, they would perhaps be “leveraging the synergies of a holistic cross-platform collaborative approach”. But they’re getting much more subtle now. So watch out for some of these things:
You’ll hear new age Jargonauts:
- “Talking to a presentation”
- “Working in the Enterprise space”
Granted, some of these are always going to creep into general conversation, so don’t jump to conclusions. But if someone does this more than once, or in quick succession, you should be raising an eyebrow. If they use them constantly, you know you really are in the presence of brilliance.
Not everyone can be a star, and there are many people who do just fine not being a star. They don’t crave the limelight, they don’t particularly want the attention, they just do a good, solid job and are happy that you thank them for doing just that.
These kind of people are essentially your grunts, the engine-house of your team. These are the guys that deliver stuff for you, day-in, day-out. You need them on your team.
If you have a team full of experts and stars; let’s call them Prima-Donnas, you will spend all your time massaging their egos, making up for their shortcomings, apologising to people they’ve annoyed or upset and stopping fights between them. They’ll take up a lot of your valuable time.
While you absolutely do need both in your team, you need to watch out. If you want your team to deliver, and not just postulate and come up with whizzy ideas, you would be well placed to make sure you have a high Grunt to Prima-Donna ratio.
The railroader is the kind of person that will use his personality and blind determination to force his ideas through, regardless of other popular, or learned opinion.
You’ll easily be able to classify a Railroader when you encounter one, they typically talk over other people, usually starting when the have a grasp of an idea and think they can run with it. At this point, they genuinely think they know better than everyone else in the room, including the person who was talking.
You can try to go toe-to-toe with a Railroader, and keep talking over them but unless you have the presence or seniority to carry it off and they stop, it can quickly degenerate into a babble-fest where the rest of the assembled group will be wondering what’s going on.
One strategy is to use distraction to shut them up, like the magicians do. I don’t suggest the, “Look, an eagle!”, approach. More the open handed-stop signal, holding up your finger or pen as a blocker, hand on the shoulder, other ways to knock them off their stride. But be aware when they’ve sussed what you’ve done, they’ll just start off again.
The best strategy is to let them talk themselves out first. Then pitch in with the real solution, as it’s highly probable they have not grasped the whole situation and have gone off half-cocked.
That way you end up looking like the one that knows what they are talking about, which is about right.
We’ve all seen them, the guys that work all hours, they are always first in and last to leave, they seem to always be in the thick of it, people are always waiting for them to do something before they can move on, they’re always on-call, if they’re not still on-shift.
There’s no doubt that out there there are some of these types, and they will be genuinely good, valuable people who do some really good stuff. Yay them, keep it up guys. You’re keeping it all hanging together, thanks! Just be careful when you’re crossing the road please.
However, there is another side to this genre though, and you’d be well advised in learning to spot them. These are the self-made heroes. They’re not really heroes, they just play a clever game to make people think they are heroes. Really, they are manufacturing a need for themselves, they are making themselves indespensible because no-one eles could possibly do all the stuff they do, know all the things they know or sort all the problems they sort.
Watch out for them, they avoid passing on their knowledge, the learn new stuff and keep it to themselves and, best of all, the real pro’s in this area will manufacture problems that only they can fix. Allowing the yet another opportunity to ride in on the big white charger and save the day.
The sponge is another example of a PM out of his depth trying to add value to his project.
His project team will be telling this PM there are problems on the project, they will be sending him progress reports coloured in heavily in red felt-tip pen, they will be telling him things like, “We’re going to be late”, or, “We’re easily going to spend double the budget”, or, “We need help!”
The sponge will happily absorb this bad news and report to his management that everything is fine, brilliant in fact. So much so, the Sponge will be looking for more green felt-tip pens in the stationery cupboard. He will blissfully continue in this fashion until the point where he can hide it no more. He thinks he’s keeping the management happy by telling them what they want to hear and will get gold stars and plaudits in return.
Similarly, any criticism and/or bad news, coming from further up the hierarchy, towards his project team will be soaked up by the Sponge and kept from the poor souls on the team. His management will be telling him, “The business are concerned with the lack of progress”, or, “The budget seems a bit tight, do we have enought to complete?”, or, “Are you sure you’ll deliver what we promised on time.” By acting as a Sponge, he thinks he’s protecting his team from the bad press.
At the end of the day, it will all explode in his face. Carnage will ensue, with the finger of blame being pointed at everyone and everything.
Recognisable from the fact they move quietly from meeting to meeting, with their metaphorical tail between their legs, the Lost Dog generally has a doleful expression on their face.
You’ll spot them as the person who always seems to be in all the meetings you go to, but rarely contributes much. Very much the antithesis of the Echo, they will sit quietly, desparately trying to keep up what’s being discussed, perhaps nodding occasionally and generally only speaking when directly invited to and then saying a little as they can get away with to avoid appearing scoobless.
Much of this is due to the fact that they feel overwhelmed by the topics being discussed. You will find many Lost Dogs in large organisations, particularly where the technology has moved on and they haven’t. They’re always busy, mainly because of the number of meetings they need to go to, but also because they’re following somone around.
It’s never nice to see someone struggle. But as we know, people who are struggling tend not to stay as quiet as they should. Not being able to contribute is one thing, but using up air-time for the sake of an apparent contribution is frankly a pain.
Another facet of the Competency Mask is the Echo. Someone explains something and then the arse in question says pretty much the same thing again with perhaps only a slight change in wording or emphass. In the worst cases, the repitition is near to verbatim.
This obviously wastes time, but what is more galling is that the repitition is done with no shame, with aplomb perhaps “look at me, don’t I sound clever“.
No, you don’t, you’re an arse. You gave it away with that echo. If you get a chance say “is there an echo in here” immediately after. They won’t know what you mean but it will make you feel better. Others may snigger.
You’ll hear these echo people all the time. Take note of them, it’s as good a giveaway as a big badge with ‘useless’ on it.
Reading through the entries in this A-Z, you may form an opinion that the authors are a little harsh on project managers as a race.Obviously, we’re not saying that all managers are bad, but here are very many that drag everyone else down into a pit of despair.
One such group of these managers are the channellers. As ever, this is another subset of managers who come under the broad category of “Can add no value so scramble about trying to find ways to appear to add value.”
Channelling is all about control of information flow. Collecting information from those who know and communicate it upwards and they are seen to be on top of the situation. Get a decision from higher management and pass it down as they’re own and they are in control, reactive, happening.
This is particularly obvious when there is really good or really bad news about. The channellers are easy to spot. Volunteering to send emails, organising calls, saying things like “I’ll take that to Darren, he should hear this from me.” I guarantee that you have already thought of someone you know who does this.
Obviously, the game here is a spot a channeller and make sure you do the communication and watch them seethe at first; then slope off just in case someone asks them to do something.
You would probably always argue that a project will generally suffer if it has a hapless buffoon of a project manager. Strangely, this isn’t always the case.
There is a particular type of hapless buffoon that knows he is out of his depth and is open to suggestion and instruction. A project that has a strong technical team can get the right thing done by telling the project manager what to do. The manager does the dull stuff, goes to the meetings, sorts timesheets etc, letting the team (or lead individuals within the team) make the major decisions and get on with the work.
Teams who work for such managers can enjoy a great degree of freedom and success if they realise that the ‘leader’ is easy to manipulate in this way. Keep and eye out for them, you might be missing a trick.
Obviously, the hapless buffoons that linger under the misapprehension that they are in charge and should make the decisions themselves will always cause a disaster.