Bad IT Project Management

My sister-in-law recently passed the PMP certification (congratulations Heather!). I’m waiting for a call from her asking if we need to add resources.

The resources comment above is a joke, but it isn’t really that funny. It’s indicative of my decades of experience with bad IT project managers.

I believe and hope I have worked with some of the worst project managers on the planet. Why do I hope? I’d hate to think anyone has had to deal with folks worse than the poor project managers I’ve dealt with.

As I type, we’re experiencing a heat wave in Farmville, Virginia. It was 107 degrees Fahrenheit here yesterday. It’s the “dog days of summer“, as my Granny used to call them.

Somehwere, you will find 30 or more push mowers lined up wheel-to-wheel along one axis of a lawn. On command, the 30+ operators will start their mowers. On cue, they will push them across the lawn, maintaining the wheel-to-wheel alignment, cutting the entire area in one pass.

This, my friend, is the home of an IT project manager.

My experiences have led me to a couple thoughts:


(The same can be said for MBAs, but that’s for another post…)

Inspired by the book, Brook’s Law states “Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later.” It is perhaps best summed up by the following statement by Brooks himself: “The bearing of a child takes nine months, no matter how many women are assigned.” This sentiment is typically summarized: “You cannot have a baby in one month with a team of nine women.”

As an IT professional, you can learn to detect when you’re about to be “managed”. I share the following indicators and advice from my years of experience:

Do we need to add more resources?” This question in and of itself is harmless. It’s actually the way project managers greet each other and has no more meaning to ordinary folk than “How are you doing today?” or “How about this weather?”

The best answer to this question is a non-answer. After years of trying to correctly answer this (as though it were a meaningful question), I stumbled across an answer that works for me: “I don’t know.” Why does this work so well? The last thing a bad IT project manager wants to do is make a decision – at least one traceable to them.

I am (or used-to-be) a software developer.” If you hear this, you’re in trouble. Big, big trouble. My advice to you is to vacate the project – and the premises – as quickly as possible. This isn’t a fire evacuation, it’s a bomb evacuation. You may wish to consider jumping out a window if you’re on or below the third floor.

Why? You are dealing with a person who believes they were promoted because they were such a good developer. Mind you, this is true in less than 25% of my experience. And even then, odds are their resume includes COBOL or they aren’t nearly the project manager they believe themselves to be. At best you have 1/3rd of a 25% chance that you’re working for someone who knows a definition for delegate – a definition that isn’t “someone who attends a convention.”

The truth of the matter is this person was likely promoted before they could delay or otherwise further damage the software project to which they were assigned.

What do I tell my boss (or the stakeholders)?” This question is the prelude to a demand. Your answer isn’t important, the demand in the mind of the IT project manager is important. And that demand is for you to commit to something no sane developer would ever do.

There are a couple options. If you’re feeling froggy, you can document the fact you were asked to take this ridiculous course of action by your IT project manager, and then do it. Be sure to address the issue in writing and as soon as possible. CC someone else – anyone else. If you can CC the project managers’ boss without looking like you’re trying to make them look stupid, that’s best. If not, CC someone else at your level on the development team (and allow the bad IT project manager to continue their work of making themselves look stupid unassisted).

Note: Never BCC. BCC’ing the boss is the equivalent of placing a bold, red, flashing banner across the top of your message which states “I’M INSECURE”. The boss will get this message, loud and clear. Go ahead and CC them if you believe it’s warranted – those dogs need to wake up eventually.

Make sure it’s in writing and someone else sees it – that’s the point.

The other option is to simply ignore it and do what you know to be right and good. There’s risk here too. Some bad IT project managers will call in bigger dogs to shout you down. It’s good to have your mugshot and name on a technical book somewhere (writes this published author) if you’re going to exercise this option. Worst case: This could trigger an REE (Resume-Enhancing Event).

Umm yeah. I’m going to need you to come in Saturday. Sunday’s not looking good either…” People are people. Bad IT project managers don’t get that. They call people “resources,” for goodness’ sakes! People aren’t resources, people use resources. People are separate and distinct from resources. People are people.

Bad IT project managers are the reason we have Developer Leads on IT projects. After all, someone who knows what they’re talking about needs to have some authority if any software project is to stand a chance of succeeding.

:{> Andy

PS – This post inspired a new category: Expensive Management Practices – gotta love the acronym. :{>


Andy Leonard

Christian, husband, dad, grandpa, Data Philosopher, Data Engineer, Azure Data Factory, SSIS, and Biml guy. I was cloud before cloud was cool. :{>

4 thoughts on “Bad IT Project Management

  1. … Just getting off a bad project, or what?  
    I totally relate to everything you said, but you’re wrong if you say you’ve worked with the worst, because I know I’ve got you beat 🙂

  2. Hi Adam,
      Lol – and sorry to hear about your project management experiences. 🙁
      This post doesn’t reference anything recent. I maintain this rule about blogging: All complaints must be from experiences 12 months (or more) in the past. A year gives me time to learn from the experience and to put it in perspective.
    :{> Andy

  3. Yes, the PM I’m thinking of was from around 3 or 4 years ago.  The "I used to be a developer too, you know" part really hits home.  I can still remember the obviously never opened Java books collecting dust on the shadowy corner of her desk… despite the fact that we were a .NET shop.  One of the other developers and I would throw little slightly-incorrect technical terms out in meetings to see if she would bite.  Her dazed look told us that nary a line of code had those fingers ever punched into an editor…

  4. Hi Projectmanagement04,
      I understand it’s a lot of work to achieve PMP certification.
      I think you missed my point about the callouses…
    :{> Andy

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