Overzealous Project Managers: Problems and Solutions

I have worked on many projects in my time as an engineer, and in that time, I have discovered that the project manager tends to be one of the lesser liked roles in the project team.  In my previous post, I discuss the reasons why project managers are critical to a project’s success.  However, despite the positive sides of project management, engineers, specifically, seem to experience both the overzealous and lazy project managers with a high enough frequency that the major complaints must be voiced.  Therefore, here are a few of the major points of contention with overzealous project managers and what you should do about them:

  1. They’re always nagging me – That voice you hear in the back of your mind may not actually BE your own voice in your mind.  In fact, many times, project managers come and ask you question after question, trying to answer their own questions about your project.  Solution – plan your schedule and offer time slots for questions.  If the questions come by email, make it clear that you will only respond to emails within a certain time slot of the day.  This sets boundaries on your time that you can justifiably (should there be some problem with the plan) show are necessary to completing your work.
  2. They keep adding new features – What’s that?  Do I hear feature creep?  As I said before, new features are sometimes absolutely required, but if features are creeping steadily in, it defeats your ability to finish the project in a timely fashion.  Solution – stick to the scope document.  I’ve found that more often than not, features are added by word of mouth alone, and are rarely re-included in the scope doc.  If it isn’t in there, it’s not getting implemented.  That will require that more than one person gives an OK to the new features.  Alternatively, if the features just keep coming in and the scope doc is getting updated consistently to keep up, perhaps it’s time for a heart to heart with the whole project development team.  The creeping is likely due to a lack of prior planning, and perhaps a process change will be in order to prevent it in the future.
  3. They never give me enough time to do my work – Quoting from Office space:

I’m gonna need you to go ahead and come in tomorrow. So if you could be here around 9 that would be great, mmmk… oh oh! and I almost forgot ahh, I’m also gonna need you to go ahead and come in on Sunday too, kay. We ahh lost some people this week and ah, we sorta need to play catch up.

All too often, there are more things that need to be accomplished than there is time to accomplish them.  Sadly, in large projects this tends to be the norm.  “I need a week” begets “You only have two days.”  The cause of this discrepancy can be any number of things, from new features, to ill-conceived time-tables, but regardless, discouraging is too light a word.  Solution – The solution to this is not as clear-cut as the prior issues, because again, it’s based on the issue that causes the short time-schedule.  Ideally, a project is planned from the outset.  If you underestimated the time originally, you have no one to blame but yourself for not being able to hit the schedule.  And frankly, some overtime might be required.  In the feature addition case, appropriate planning would have prevented the problem altogether.  Sometimes, the project just needs to be done in a specific time frame that must be adhered to, but whenever possible, more accurate estimates in the planning phase should push this issue down to negligible.

I have a fourth, namely “They never listen to my ideas,” but once I wrote about it, I realized that it is actually too large a topic to include (it’d make this post HUGE) in this.  So the follow-up will be focused on good and bad ideas, and how they are received by project managers and managers in general.

What do you think?  Have you experienced these?  Do you have others that I failed to include?  Please leave your thoughts in the comments!