I'm a Software Project Manager currently facing a hard situation: our company is having some hard times (mainly due to financial things) and lately people are generally pessimistic, apathic and/or easily angered.

Generally, I have a very strict and hard management style: I point out mistakes and fix them ASAP, raise warning flags and resolve small conflicts with a strong intervention so they cannot grow bigger.

However, as my developers are getting more demotivated due to the things happening I am starting to lose my "leverage power". People suddenly started to hate to be corrected, became less dedicated to delivery quality and delivering good quality becomes really hard for projects.

What approach is best for me to take up in such situation? Lately I became slighly softer when I interact with everyone and I try explaining bad things with a calm and humble manner but this only barely buys time. I feel like I need a major strat change.

Have you had such experiences? How did you overcome them? What has worked and what not?

EDIT: If I look back in the history, good leaders had dealt with hard times by establishing even stricter rules. (to the very contrary of the humble soft PMs graduated various funny unversities nowadays). But I am afraid if I do this some people might resign (considering the bad background and the better choices they might have).

Thank you. :)

  • 2
    "humble soft PMs graduated various funny universities nowadays"... Made me laugh :) But seriously, this question is a bit broad to be on-topic here (though the problem is recognisable and fascinating). I think the root question is "I am a command and control PM but my style and strategy are starting to have diminishing returns due to workplace effects beyond my control, how should I change?" But unfortunately that is also probably out of scope since it invites opinion rather than quantitative answers- In summary it depends on you and the workplace and we can't know these... – Marv Mills Feb 5 '15 at 13:58
  • @MarvMills it might be indeed a broad topic and off-topic. But I believe a lot of PMs have this problem and if we gather answers for it here, it will of serve to community (despite being off-topic). Imma let the uestion stay around for 4-5 days and if nothing happens Imma delete it. – Placeholder Feb 5 '15 at 17:52
up vote 3 down vote accepted

I have had a similar problem to what you're describing; when I first began working with my current team I was very direct and it resulted in a lot of resistance from the team.

After running into the brick wall enough times, I hit a period where I would make an attempt to do something or a suggestion just to say "Hey, I tried" and then would give up and let them reign. I essentially snapped to the other extreme of the spectrum.

In my scenario, I had the benefit of working in a Scrum environment so I was able to address this fact in a sort of "Process Sanctioned" way: I addressed the team in one of our retrospectives and brought up the fact that I had gone from a "light touch leading from the background" to nothing at all. I gathered examples of times my team disregarded me and the things I had to say (literally as they happened I would write down the conversation topic, my input, any response I received and the outcome).

My guys ended up appreciating my combination of honesty/openness and hard evidence of what I was talking about and the team as a whole came to an understanding: Despite my tendency to operate in the background, I need to try to have a more active presence within the team and the team needs to make a more honest effort to give my input their consideration.

Two months later: It's not perfect, but it's going well. I am still sometimes too hands off but my team will either call me out on it or make a note of it and I will do the same with my concern. Slowly, it's getting better.

That being said, I don't have a "management" position within my team. That is, I am not their reporting manager. We are also a bunch of guys who are around the same age and have similar interests, so it's pretty easy for us to get over hurdles like this due to our common ground. Being open with your team may work for you, or it may be impossible depending on your situation.

That's my two cents on the topic.

I am going to put my own view to it.

Today we had our monthly meeting where we should discuss regular bullshit like "what technologies we are using, what we can change" and so on, stuff which no one really cares about.

The CEO was there. Then I rude-interrupted the "bla-bla" talk and stared speaking about our problems we had lately. Then three guys attacked my "approach" to them: "You are too aggressive and you have a fucked up attitude.". I answered "Yeah. I know. But I'm only human. And I am working on this part of my character".

Then the CEO and CTO did their share of moral/personal talks which relieved everyone. We all shared and admitted the hard moments we had during these past two months. The CEO instructed everyone to obey me strictly and I apologized for me being too pushy sometimes. Then the CTO went on and asked everyone "How are you feeling about the future?". Suprisingly, everyone said "I am sure things will go better."

We smiled, shook hands and negotiated a new team building in order to start fresh.

The conclusion I had for myself, as a Software Project Manager:

People issues are more important than PM style and glossary. Be yourself. I am that kind of human and my team is this kind of team. We are both attempting to bear with each other. Bad times come and go. Good project managers stay in the bad times. We are going to pull through it using all the "magic trix" of SCRUM and the various other funny sounding PM methodologies.

It was 18:00 and I think my job has been done.

In our company (we are using scrum process anyway), we never fix the development problems asap. We respect the time of the developers as they have some things to do in the sprint (but it is never an excuse to do a sloppy job). One thing is for sure, the goal is to fix all those bugs before the sprint ends. If not, its not the end of the world, we push it to the next sprint. We are still in the process of evolution, but changing to scrum definitely resulted in a positive way.

I would say that scrum is a nice framework. If nobody or only few had worked on agile/scrum process on your company, expect some resistance from some people (reasons may be political or they are not comfortable to change the way they do things)

  • I think this would work only in "Subcription based" work arrangement, where you are being paid for a fixed amount of time, instead of closed contracts, where everything is locked and missing one sprints means you are already behind schedule. – Placeholder Jul 9 '15 at 13:24

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