7 Characteristics Of A Disorganized Project Manager

Hi there! Are you messy or disorganized in your project management style? One thing that strikes me over the years is that a disorganized project manager is an inefficient project manager.

Unfortunately, many PMs I know prefer to "shoot from the hip" as such, or "go with their gut". Now, whilst I agree that managing by gut or feel is a good thing at times - the majority of a PM's time should be organized, structured and dead efficient. If you're disorganized, you can be sure something will fall through the cracks at some critical juncture.

In this article, I'd like to identify seven characteristics of disorganized project managers, so you can see the symptoms and hopefully that steps to correct the behavior.

7 characteristics of a disorganized project manager 1 A disorganized project manager is an inefficient project manager

1. Lack Of A Project Plan

The lack of a project plan is a considered blasphemous in project management. If you have a PM who doesn't have a project plan, your alarm bells sound be ringing immediately.

Granted, there are some very short term projects (e.g. two to three weeks) which don't warrant a project plan. But even then, you still must have a sense of who does what, and when.

So, make sure you have a project plan in place, even if it's just a simple one.

2. Lack Of Checklists

Checklists are a project manager's friend. They help you remember things to do even you're in a crisis and can't remember or can't think straight. In my opinion, an organized PM always has some standard checklists he or she uses from project to project.

What kind of checklists are we talking about? Well, here are some examples:

  • Stakeholder communication checklist
  • Key project success factors
  • Change request evaluation criteria
  • Document quality review criteria
  • Sign-off distribution lists
  • Project team members and contact details
  • New project team member "on-boarding" checklist
  • Deployment checklist
  • Go-live checklist

These are all useful lists and I'm sure you can think of many more.

Case Study: I use a lot of checklists in my work as a PM. I usually store them in a "tools and templates" folder on my hard drive. I deploy them to every project I get on to. Over time, you'll start amassing many of such checklists to use.

One of my favorite checklists is the deployment checklist. When you're preparing a system for go-live, there are hundreds of things to take note of, e.g. when users need to log off the system, when batch jobs should be run, who should configure certain files.

A deployment checklist helps me sort all that out, down to the precise time that an individual has to do something. It's tremendously useful.

3. Lack Of Face-To-Face Communication

As I've always said, communication is one of the most critical skills of a project manager.

A project manager who does not communicate (especially face-to-face) is in danger of having the project go wrong. To me, such a PM is also perhaps quite disorganized. Perhaps he or she is has lost track of what to speak to stakeholders about and just doesn't want to communicate. Or is afraid of "facing up" to serious orient issues.

By communication, I mean actually getting up, walking over and speaking to your stakeholders. Or picking up the phone and talking to them. I DO NOT mean communication by electronic means, e.g. email and SMS.

As a project manager, it's very easy to execute from your "desktop". That means that you fire off emails or SMSes and instruct your team members on what to do, all through electronic means. I've even seen some PMs send emails to team members sitting next to them!

If I see a project manager doing a lot of emailing and SMS, instead of thinking he or she is efficient, I'd be really worried that he or she is not up to speed with everything. Too much electronic communication in my mind is a sign of poor and inefficient project management.

4. Lack of Energy

I've discussed quite a bit on how you should manage your energy as a PM. To me, if I see a PM who looks tired, dishevelled or otherwise in a physical mess, guess what's my impression?

Thats right - that's one disogranized project manager.

I think project management is a "high energy" job. You're continuously out there engaging stakeholders, talking, clarifying expectations and so forth. So you CAN'T afford to be tired.

Find ways to exercise, eat right and keep your PM energu levels up!

5. No Follow-Up

Project managers who promise to do something but don't follow through - are indicating to the world they're not credible and also disorganized.

I've seen many PMs pay "lip service" to their to-dos. Week after week, they update at status meetings that they'll "get the test environment set up", or "get the functional specs signed off". But week after week, they come up with some excuse to defer the action item YET AGAIN.

If you see such a PM - your alarm bells should be ringing!

6. Nowhere To Be Seen

A good project manager is VISIBLE to the team. If you're the sort who runs off and hides in a cafe or room somewhere to "do your work" - project management may not be for you.

You need to be in front of team members and stakeholder. Not necessarily talking actually - just be seen to be there. A PM who is forever "in meetings" is not taking the time to understand the internal workings and status of the project.

Make time for your team and be seen to be involved. It makes a difference to team morale and overall project health.

7. Does Not Take Notes

A PM who does not take notes during meeting is a disorganized project manager. Some folks I know say "Bah, I don't need to take notes - it's all in my head". I don't subscribe to that! You may miss small action items if you don't take notes.

Sure, a PM may have a scribe or a minute taker to help take down notes. But still, as a PM, you should still take down particularly important items.

Tip. Carry around a hardcopy notebook to take notes. I know that these days, we have smartphones, tablets and all that gadgetry. However, nothing focuses the mind more than neatly scribbled notes which capture the essence of your thought and interactions with others. I find that writing clear and neat one liner notes helps me plan and focus.

Wrapping Up ...

I hope the above has helped identify some characteristics of a disorganized project manager for you. Project managers need to be structured and organized - don't let any anyone tell you differently.

While it's true that you need to "go with yout gut" sometimes, most of the time you need your systems, processes and structure to help you keep track of tasks, risks and issues in the project.

So make an effort to be organized - it will pay off handsomely over the long term in your projects. Until next time, have fun managing your projects!

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