The Project Notebook

An Ounce of Micro-management is OK

By:  Susan Peterson, M.B.A., PMP

Copyright 2011, Susan Peterson, All Rights Reserved

 Although many textbooks and other professional publications shun micro-management as totally ineffective, there are times when a project manager needs to follow certain project activities and participants more closely.  With the continuing emphasis on “transparency”, even top-level executives need to ask detailed questions at times to uncover practices that may be illegal or at the very least a dishonest representation to stockholders.

One of the challenges of project management is that a variety of people from different levels in the organization and from diverse functions must be managed.  Those people may have worked for different project managers who themselves had varying degrees of proficiency in project management skills.  For example, I had one contract project team member tell me “I will be late with this deliverable, but don’t worry — I’ll catch up next week.”  My response was, “Maybe late deliverables were OK on your last project, but they’re not on this one.”  Then, rather than dismissing the conversation and waiting to see if he would indeed be late, I worked with him to determine the real reason for the projected delay.  In this particular situation it was an issue of poor time management.  To address the cause of the problem, each morning I would have a brief discussion with the individual to plan his work for that day.  Micro-managing — yes!  However, this person ultimately learned to plan his work on his own.  Oh, yes, and he was on time with all of his deliverables.  It is standard practice that I always involve the people who will be responsible for deliverables in the estimating process.  That’s an extra incentive for project participants to adhere to deadlines that they’ve actually set.

 Some project management publications use a “rule of thumb” that any activity that is .5% of the total project time should appear on the project plan.  In reality some activities that consume miniscule amounts of time may actually be very critical to overall timely project progress.  For example, a senior executive’s approval on a project charter or a project budget is crucial to beginning or funding the remaining activities.  That signature approval may only take 15 seconds of actual elapsed time.  Using the above mentioned “rule of thumb”, this activity wouldn’t even “make the cut” to appear on a project plan.  However, without the necessary approval there is no project.

 The bottom line is that sometimes there are minute details that a project manager must personally address.  The micro-management required to accomplish these tasks is absolutely necessary.  However, if you find that your entire existence as a project manager is focused on details, then it’s time to re-think your project priorities and delegate, re-plan, or just plain ignore the “small stuff”.

 Susan Peterson, M.B.A., PMP, is a consultant who manages diverse programs and projects in both the private and public sectors for individual organizations and consortia.  She also conducts enterprise assessments of project portfolio management practices.  Prior to establishing her consulting practice Susan led major efforts for Fortune 100 organizations throughout the United States.  She teaches the Project Management Simulation capstone course as well as the Project Portfolio Management course in the University of California, San Diego, Project Management certificate program and is a member of the curriculum committee.  She can be contacted at

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