Are your Project Managers working too hard to be effective?


‘Progress isn’t made by early risers. It’s made by lazy men trying to find easier ways to do something.’ Robert Heinlein

During my time leading a number of PMOs across different organisations one thing was common across all of the project managers that worked under the PMO, and that was they generally could be placed in to two groups.

The first group was reasonably successful in leading projects to the point of delivery and sign off by the steering board and sponsor. But so too were the second group, they also led reasonably successful projects. The difference was in the time that they invested in doing this work. One group averaged a ‘normal’ working week (of course projects aren’t flat in their demand of project managers’ time investment but I am talking averages here) and the second group didn’t. They average many more hours.

The output was similar but the input was very different.

In my first book ‘The Lazy Project Manager’ I advocated being a ‘lazy’ project manager but by that I meant a ‘productively lazy’ project manager. I didn’t intend that we should all do absolutely nothing and I wasn’t saying we should all sit around drinking coffee, reading a good book and engaging in idle gossip whilst watching the project hours go by and the non-delivered project milestones disappear over the horizon.  That would obviously be plain stupid and would result in an extremely short career in project management, in fact probably a very short career full stop!

No I really mean that we should all adopt a more focused approach to project management and to exercise our efforts where it really matters, rather than rushing around like busy, busy bees involving ourselves in unimportant, non-critical activities that others can better address, or indeed that do not need addressing at all in some cases.

The behavioural differences in those two groups of project managers was that the latter had not matured their project management style and failed often to delegate in the appropriate way, involved themselves in too much communication (often becoming a bottleneck slowing the communication process down) and placed themselves in the path of the majority of the decisions that needed to be taken (often becoming a bottleneck slowing the decision-making process down).

They were working very, very hard but they weren’t being really, really effective.

If you truly want to be a smart project manager, and to work in a more effective and efficient manner, then you need to start by asking yourself some fundamental questions when the next project comes along.

In ‘The Lazy Winner’, my second book on ‘productive laziness’ I talk about the 5 key tips or questions that everyone should ask themselves.

Tip #1: Do I want to do this piece of work, job or task etc? Even if I do want to do it, do I need to do it?

Don’t do something just because everyone else does it or because it is the ‘usual thing to do’. Just running with the pack is never going to allow you to take control of your own time and will only lead you in to over-commitments.

If you really want to change things for the better then begin by asking yourself two questions: ‘Is this really necessary?’ and ‘Is this really worth doing?’

If the answer is ‘no’ to either of these questions then simply don’t do it! Of course there will be times when you ignore this advice because you are compelled to get involved because ‘it is the right thing to do’ but really you need to make these exceptions just that, exceptional.

Challenge yourself the very next time you consider taking on some new work – ask those two critical questions ‘Do I need to get involved and do I want to get involved’. By addressing objectively the decision making process, rather than being swept up in enthusiasm, acceptance of delegation, or assumption that you do have to do something then you will be better prepared to a) do what is important and b) do a good job on what you accept is important.

Tip #2: Is the result or outcome worth my effort?

Only do the things with the most impact. It is all about applying the good old 80/20 rule. What are the most critical things that you need to get involved in? What is the 20% that will deliver the 80% of value (and not the other way around that most people do – often the easier actions that deliver a false sense of progress). Get the priorities right and you will achieve far more, and by prioritising this way and assessing if the outcome or output is worthwhile then you can help do what is most important.

Your time is limited (some people seem to believe that time is flexible and infinite but they also tend to over-promise and under-deliver) so invest it only in things that give you the most return on your personal investment. As with all of these guiding rules there will be exceptions but at least by starting with the all-important questions as and when you do ‘break the rules’ you will have done so with the right level of consideration and planning.

Tip #3: Do I have to do this myself?

Ask yourself if you really are the best possible person to do whatever it is that needs to be done or is there someone else in your network who is better qualified than you to do this thing? If there is then be generous and let them help you out.

The principle here is that allocating work to the best-suited person benefits everyone in the long run. Of course this cannot be done just to avoid work. You have to pick up some actions yourself.

The strength of saying ‘No’ should not be underestimated and saying ‘No’ can be a very positive thing, if you don’t say ‘No’, ever, then you will never achieve anything. There is the ‘what goes around comes around’ idea as well. Sometimes you shouldn’t say ‘no’ because despite the fact that you may not want to do something, need to do something and there is someone who could do it better, you do want to help out and be that team player or Good Samaritan.

Or, it is in your interests to take on a project so you can learn some new skills, in which case you may well not be the most obvious person for the job.

It is all about balance and priority. Overall you want to deal with the important stuff plus a reasonable amount of other stuff.

If you keep saying ‘yes’ then your backlog will never go down and you will spend far too much time working on the unimportant.

Tip #4: If you have to do it, then what is the shortest path to the point of success?

Don’t waste your time on the unnecessary. If it works in black and white don’t waste effort in creating a technicolour dream version of the same thing. What is the point after all if you are ‘just getting the job done’ (to the right quality level of course)?

Can you simplify it? Can you shorten it? If there’s something that you do that is complicated and difficult, find ways to make it easier and simpler. List the steps, and see which can be eliminated or streamlined. Which steps can be done by someone else or automated or dropped completely? What is absolutely the easiest way to do this?

Can it wait? Is it really needed when it is supposed to be needed? Will it impact on others if it waits? Sometimes, not always you understand, but just sometimes, not rushing into something can turn out to be a productively good thing as it turns out it didn’t matter anyway, or at least the need has gone away. We live in a complex world of interaction so at any given time just about everything is changing.

Do only the things that are necessary to get the job done. Cut everything else out!

Tip #5: What exactly is that point of success and at what stage will you just be wasting your time?

Having said take the shortest path to success there is a counter-argument that says can you make this of greater value in the long run. Can this be reused again and again? Can it have more value than just a ‘one-off’ piece of work? If it can, then scale it for a better return on investment.

To achieve project success in the most efficient way you always need to think ‘smarter and not harder’ and find that ‘productively lazy’ approach that will give you just as successful project together with a better work/life balance.



Peter Taylor is a PMO expert currently leading a Global PMO, with 200 project managers acting as custodians for nearly 5,000 projects around the world, for Kronos Inc. – a billion dollar software organisation delivering Workforce Management Solutions.

Peter Taylor is also the author of the number 1 bestselling project management book ‘The Lazy Project Manager’, along with many other books on project leadership, PMO development, project marketing, project challenges and executive sponsorship.

In the last 4 years he has delivered over 200 lectures around the world in over 25 countries and has been described as ‘perhaps the most entertaining and inspiring speaker in the project management world today’.

His mission is to teach as many people as possible that it is achievable to ‘work smarter and not harder’ and to still gain success in the battle of the work/life balance.

More information can be found at  – and through his free podcasts in iTunes.


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