It is vacation period again, and I was asked to help out with a project while my colleague was on vacation. I don't know too much about the project - unfortunately we aren't that transparent -, but I know the people involved - we are located in the same area -, and I know the technology.

The way that I approach project management problems differs from the way my colleague does it. There's nothing wrong with this, because I believe that an organization needs diversity on certain levels, but now this diversity will appear in a project and only for a short amount of time, and this concerns me a bit.

For example, there's a meeting style in place, which I consider as not effective, but the colleagues are fine with it. If I change this, it will cause some disturbance in the projects life, which can be good for the project (they'll learn something new), or can be a risk (they'll slow down). This is not just about this particular meeting, there is the responding to emails, delegation, authority, saying no, saying yes and the list goes on.

I cannot switch between styles as fast as I would like, so I'm not quite sure how to proceed. Shall I use my style? Shall I follow my colleagues style, although I don't agree with it?


My answer is a little different than Pawel's. I'd advise to replicate the other PM to the degree possible and only in a crisis would I deploy what comes intuitively to me.

I revert to my machine analogy. When you replace a part you need it to fit the machine. Else the machine will not run or run well.

Remember teaming theory, too. When a member is replaced, the team and its performance suffers. If you change things purposely, you are exacerbating this.

Another factor to consider is the Hawthorne Effect. This theory was based on a study that showed performance increases caused by some variable change, not because the variable actually caused the change but instead because the workers knew some change took place. This gives a false cause and effect. Eventually, the performance returned to its baseline state.

A change offered by the covering PM may provide a similar result, where performance increases or even the team claiming this is better, but in fact has no more efficacy than the original way. This will set up the vacationing PM when (s)he returns and I don't think any of us would like to deal with things like that when we simply go on vacation.

Status quo is your best bet with the best odds and is the most respectful to the vacationing PM!

  • This question and its answers are currently being discussed in meta: meta.pm.stackexchange.com/questions/353/…. Please join us if you have time and are interested. – jmort253 Jul 3 '12 at 2:11
  • It wasn't an easy decision, because I like both Pawel's and your answer. I used this week for trying out the answers I received, and this answer is the closest one which worked for me. I kept my style, but my primary motivator became the "status quo". Thanks for the references, I'll read more about the Hawthrone Effect. – Zsolt Jul 5 '12 at 20:48

There's one simple approach that usually is win-win.

Employ your style of running projects as your basis as it brings fresh air to the way team works. They can appreciate different style or just pick a couple of things they like or prefer the other PM more and appreciate him/her when he/she is back. Either way it should be fine. See more about role of fresh blood in terms of triggering improvements here and here.

At the same time respect any important and long-term arrangements that were made by the PM you are substituting. You don't want to change team's course heavily. You don't want to mess with the work the other PM did with the team. For example I wouldn't try to start the adoption on a completely new PM approach, etc.

Whenever there's a conflict between these two I would rather let the latter win over the former and then eventually when the other PM is back start a discussion about the ideas you have on potential improvements.

  • it wasn't an easy decision, but I accepted David's answer. I explained it in my comment on his answer. – Zsolt Jul 5 '12 at 20:49

I would recommend that don't make a change that will "linger" effect past the time you are filling in. Changing meetings styles = probably OK since they will just change back... changing the status reports or PKIs = probably not okay... change in team structure = definitely not okay.

Just don't be this Dilbert comic.

  • This question and its answers are currently being discussed in meta: meta.pm.stackexchange.com/questions/353/…. Please join us if you have time and are interested. – jmort253 Jul 3 '12 at 2:11
  • @SBWorks, I've decided to keep things as they are now. I used this week for experimentation and now I don't see a need for any kind of change. – Zsolt Jul 5 '12 at 20:51

A project manager should follow project management plans, not his/her personal believes and ideas. That's one of the key principles of professional project management. How the project is managed should be explicitly explained on paper.

The first question you ask your colleague before promising to help him: "where do I find your project planning documentation?" If the answer is "I don't have any" - strongly consider an option to help him/her to build such a documentation first.


My suggestion would be to simply talk to your colleague who is going on vacation and work it out together. Come to an agreement as to how you will run the project so that your colleague is not surprised when they return.

Also ask yourself how you would want someone to perform if they managed your project temporarily.

  • I agree. And be sure you've got their cell phone number. Try your best to continue in your colleague's footsteps. "Change" would simply disrupt the project with no useful benefit. – Mike Robinson Sep 29 '20 at 15:08

What is the impact on the outcome? How will the change affect scope/cost/schedule/probability of success?

If there is a scheduled meeting that you think is ineffectual, then I'd recommend cancelling it. It is unlikely that cancelling an ineffectual meeting will have any deleterious effect on the project outcome, while it is very likely that the participants/attendees will rejoice at getting some working time back.

On the other hand, if you want to institute strict Earned Value Management on a team that is unfamiliar with the concept and hasn't designed their WBS to take advantage of EVM, then this is a wonderful opportunity to remain silent. That kind of change will impede the project and annoy all concerned.

In short, I think this is the wrong question; I suspect the answer will be clearer if you rephrase as, "How would a change due to my personal style preferences affect the probability of the project entrusted to my care?"

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