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“You’re driving us crazy. You’ve got to back off.” – Resolving Micro Management at Trader Joe’s – HBR

April 4, 2011

I cannot recall a time when “Micro Management” worked well with a team or individuals.  Project Managers who spend their time telling members exactly how to do their work are failing on several fronts.  Most importantly they are sapping the energy and initiative of their people (their most important resource).  In addition, they are taking their focus from leading the project or program, which can lead to problems in other areas.  Since Project Managers are often promoted or assigned from being successful as specialists, untrained or inexperienced ones show their lack of training or experience by trying to exert excessive control over the work of their teams.  We think, “No one can do it as well as I can.  I might as well do it myself.”

Successful Project and Program Managers understand that there are learning curves on projects and programs, and determining  how the work is to be done should be decided by those doing the work.  Advice and guidance are not the same as mandates and getting into the details.

Leadership is situational and we have to decide how much direction is required by the team, but our goal should always be empowering our teams, since that is where they will do their best work and deliver the best results.  Harvard Business Review offers an interesting post about an executive at Trader Joe’s who recognizes that he is micro managing- admitting you have a problem is the first step!

Special note to those managing Project Managers – a good way to reduce productivity and morale in your project and program managers is to micro manage them.  The good ones have plenty of initiative and need your support, not your control.  A better alternative to micro management is to clearly identify your expectations and set milestones for results.  Check in at those milestones and assess the progress.  If you are not getting the results you identified, clarify your expectations.  If the problems persist, consider whether the issue is a training issue or a personnel issue.  Either way, micro management is not the answer.

I have provided additional  links below:

Are you a Micromanager?

When Your Boss is a Micromanager

Bad Boss Series: Micromanaging Boss (You Tube Video)

4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 4, 2011 10:09 am

    I agree; many specialists seek promotion into project management as a means of salary progression. Unfortunately, they don’t always come with the correct skills or behaviours. Their role is to control the _project_ not those who are delivering work.

    • April 5, 2011 3:37 pm

      Martin, I concur wholeheartedly. As Project Managers we should be focused on the “what” instead of the “how”, when it comes to project tasks. Micro management is neither cost effective nor productive.

  2. Freedom, by the way permalink
    April 5, 2011 5:45 am

    Another great “applicable to any industry” post. As a matter of fact, it’s applicable to human interactions in general, from parenting to marriage, micromanaging is rarely successful.

    • April 5, 2011 3:42 pm


      Much of what works in managing a project, works as well in “real-life”. That is the beauty of Project Management – it crosses industries and domains. It is all about finding the shortest path from A to B and “working smarter, not harder”.

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