When browsing through resources for team leaders and managers, you’ll find plenty of evidence against micromanagement. “Stop micromanaging your team members!” “Employees hate managers who micromanage!” – does that mean micromanagement is always bad?

In this post, we’ll try to show that micromanagement is indeed a potentially detrimental strategy, but there are situations in which it could be effective.

But first, let’s define what micromanagement in the project settings actually is.

What is micromanagement in project management?

Micromanagement is a management style where you’re controlling your team and their work very closely. In project management, it involves the team trying to deliver a project.

While many project stakeholders (internal and external) could be excessively controlling people that work on a project, in this blog post, we’ll focus on a micromanaging project manager.

Before we dive into the disadvantages and advantages (yes, there are some) of micromanagement when managing a project team, you may want to analyze your own behavior and potentially, admit that you’re a micromanaging project manager as well.

Are you a micromanaging PM?

As a project manager, you will have to oversee the work of your project team. The goal is to complete the project successfully: on time and within budget. It doesn’t take much for these monitoring responsibilities to turn into excessive control. If you recognize some of these behaviors from your own work, you might be displaying signs of a micromanaging PM:

  • You plan every tiny detail of your team’s tasks for them.
  • You tend to finish off tasks for your team because “it’s just faster/better when you do it.”
  • Your team participates in frequent status meetings and/or provides regular status reports.
  • You know exactly what everybody in your team is currently working on, but you don’t necessarily feel like you understand the project’s overall condition.
  • Even though you often sacrifice your work-life balance, you don’t feel like you have time to think about strategy.
  • You try to control every aspect of the project: “it ain’t done until I say it’s done.”
  • Most elements of your project go through many edits before you’re happy with the result.

Now, you are able to say whether micromanagement has overtaken your project management duties. Let’s discuss the consequences of that leadership style.

Why should you avoid micromanagement as a project manager?

We’ll start with the bad news simply because, in most cases, micromanagement is really not great for your team members and the project they’re working on. Here’s why.

First of all, it may actually hinder productivity. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Louisville in Kentucky found that “pressure hurts performance if it leads you to pay attention in a way that is bad for the particular task you’re doing.” People participating in the study, when they felt they’re being controlled, would focus not on the outcome of the task, but the task itself, showing that explicit monitoring can negatively impact performance.

If you tend to overcontrol your employees, you may also be likely to organize too many meetings, especially status meetings. In our guide to effective meeting management, we suggest status updates be shared in a short written form rather than during a lengthy all-hands gathering.

Excessively controlling every aspect of your team members’ work is also terrible for team morale. People get frustrated or disengaged because they don’t feel they have the autonomy to do their job. Eventually, it may cause a high turnover in your project team or conflicts between you and your team. It goes without saying that building trust, which is so important in project settings, is very difficult.

Creativity and passion are limited. Team members become more indecisive and passive: after all, it doesn’t really matter what they do—their PM will find something to correct either way. A micromanaging PM may feel that it’s a learning experience for their team, when, in fact, nobody learns anything.

It’s not a scalable project management style. You spend an enormous amount of time on editing/finishing/controlling tasks that other people are probably perfectly equipped to complete. It’s impossible to both perform your project management duties and try to improve everyone else’s tasks at the same time. With time, your employees may become dependent on you, which will further slow down the progress of the work you need to deliver together.

When is micromanagement OK?

Micromanaging your team member could be a successful approach, but only in a handful of cases:

  • A crisis (a real project-wide crisis, not a mid-day realization that “things are moving too slow”).  When it looks like your project’s schedule is at risk because of a sudden priorities change or resources shortage, you may need to help your team out with task planning and execution.
  • A need to quickly get team members up to speed. Every now and then, you might see that some people on your team need an extra push. Perhaps they’re new to the team, and they don’t fully understand their assignments or the complexities of the project? These employees may indeed benefit from you actively monitoring their work for some time.

Keep in mind that, in order for it to be even remotely effective, micromanagement should be a short-term solution.

Here’s how to prevent micromanagement in your project

Ideally, you don’t want to be micromanaging your team. At the same time, as a project manager, you want to make sure that tasks get done, and the project is headed in the right direction. In our opinion, you can achieve both goals when you pay attention to two key elements of happy and productive project teams: project transparency and employee visibility.

Transparency can eliminate your need to control your team members. How? When you encourage open communication and make sure people understand their tasks, you don’t have to monitor them that closely. If any issues arise, they will let you know about them, and you can solve them together.

It may be the case, however, that your employees don’t even see that some corrective actions need to be taken. For instance, they may be working on their tasks, not realizing that the actual time they spend on these assignments is getting more and more different from their estimates. It’s something that’s difficult to spot in your day-to-day work, but can be easily recognized when you look at the big picture. This is why it’s advantageous to have visibility into your team’s workload, timesheets, and availability. How to achieve that without demanding frequent status reports? One answer would be to introduce a resource management tool in your organization. Your employees can use it to track their time and check the projects they’re assigned to, and you, as a manager, can monitor your team’s performance without putting too much pressure on your team members.

Take a look at this image:

It’s a screenshot from Teamdeck, a resource management app we develop. It shows a fragment of a resource calendar, a place where you can see every teammate’s bookings (assigned projects), timesheets (time tracked working on a project), daily availability, and vacations. Analyzing this picture from the top, we can see that Holly Conroy should be spending 5 hours/day on her tasks in a Game Development project. The second row shows us her timesheet: Holly has been putting in 9 hours every day. Either the estimates were not accurate, or she has other issues with the assignments she’s working on.

Take a look at the third row, the one with grey blocks. They represent a particular person’s daily availability—as you can see, Holly is never supposed to be available for more than 7 hours, so she’s been doing some overtime. We can tell that also by the red, alerting bars in the last row. What’s more, we can see that Holly is going on vacation next week: we don’t want her to be sacrificing her free time, and we don’t want the project schedule to be derailed. Clearly, it’s a good time to talk with Holly and get to the bottom of this problem.

What’s important, we were able to gather all these insights without having to scrutinize Holly’s work daily or wait for her to complain about the workload. When you have such high-level visibility into your team’s work, you can be proactive and act before problems escalate. At the same time, you’re not restraining your employees with too much control.   

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