DPM Podcast

DPM Podcast: Management Styles For Project Managers (with Tucker Sauer-Pivonka)

By 01/10/2019 November 15th, 2019 No Comments

This podcast is part of an article published on The Digital Project Manager.
You can read the article here.

This podcast is brought to you by Clarizen, the leader in enterprise projects and project management software.

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Ben Aston:

Welcome to the DPM podcast where we go beyond theory to give advice that works for leading better digital projects. Thanks for tuning in. I’m Ben Aston, founder of the Digital Project Manager.

Now, as project managers, let’s be honest, we’re no good for producing anything. We might be former designers, developers, or in my case, a pizza guy, but let’s be honest, we’re not good enough to produce the products ourselves, so we’ve got a team and our team need managing. How do we do that effectively? How do we get people to do what we want them to do so we can deliver the project?

Management is one of the hardest jobs in the working world, and there’s a reason why we’ve all — I’m pretty sure about this — we’ve all had at least one terrible boss. So keep listening to this podcast to understand different management styles you can use as a project manager and find out which management styles are probably best suited to your personality.

Today, I’m joined by Tucker Sauer-Pivonka. He’s the Director of Product Management at Crema. Did I say that right, for once?

Tucker Sauer-Pivonka:

You did say it right. You did. You got it perfect.

Ben Aston:

You know, it’s taken me about two years, but finally, I remember how to say it. So Tucker leads a team of product managers at Crema managing their growth, and he’s also responsible for leading research and implementation efforts with regards to process and best practice.

But Tucker, welcome back.

Tucker Sauer-Pivonka:

Thanks, Ben. I’m excited to be here today.

Ben Aston:

Tucker, tell us what’s new with you. It’s summertime. Have you got any adventures you can tell us about that you’ve been on recently?

Tucker Sauer-Pivonka:

Yeah. I actually just got back from a meditation retreat. I went on a meditation retreat this last weekend. It was a good time for me to recharge and come in with a renewed focus and to work this week. That’s been the biggest thing that’s happened recently and I think, moving forward, I’m going to just plan on doing a couple of those a year as a good recharge.

Ben Aston:

Oh, you’re feeling zen?

Tucker Sauer-Pivonka:

I’m feeling very zen.

Ben Aston:

Was it a silent retreat or were you allowed to talk?

Tucker Sauer-Pivonka:

Yeah. This one, you’re allowed to talk at. They do silent retreats, but this one was pretty much just as silent as you want to be. Really, the only times that I talked were at meals because you had meals at a table with everybody else. I didn’t want to be rude by completely closing them out. I participated in conversation around that time, but outside of that, I was just kind of by myself and was obviously silent during that time. It was really nice.

Ben Aston:

Wow. How many days was it?

Tucker Sauer-Pivonka:

I left on a Friday and I came back Sunday, so just a couple of days. Nothing too intense. But it was a good way, it’s only about an hour away from the city and it’s out kind of in the middle of nowhere, so you feel like you’re farther away and it feels longer than a couple of days. You get the benefits of going somewhere longer without having to really have the travel time and all of that jazz.

Ben Aston:

So coming back from your meditation retreat, did you have any great epiphanies of, “Hey, I’m going to be this or do this differently or be someone else”?

Tucker Sauer-Pivonka:

Well, I’m definitely not going to be somebody else. I’ll still be myself, but I definitely did have a few, maybe not epiphanies, but a few realizations on the retreat. A lot of those are around getting wrapped up in my own thoughts and spiraling out in some ways, much like a lot of digital project managers do and product managers do, just kind of obsessing over things.

I made some realizations and realized that one of them was that I have gotten away from some of my self-care that I was doing before, so I’m working on reimplementing that in my life so I don’t get so stressed out.

Ben Aston:

Nice. Good idea. Now, talking about good advice and things we tell ourselves, on your first day of project management, what advice would you give to someone or what would you tell your younger self on your first day in project management? So one is self-care, but what else would you say?

Tucker Sauer-Pivonka:

Yeah, absolutely. Self-care’s a huge piece of it. That’s really for any role, right?

Ben Aston:

Yeah.

Tucker Sauer-Pivonka:

But for product management, I think one of the things that I’m still working on to this day, I’ve gotten better over the years, but I think something that a lot of people can sympathize with is not taking things personally when things go wrong or just making sure that you are leading these teams. We’ll talk about this in a minute. You naturally can feel a lot of ownership around things going wrong or even good, but just making sure that you don’t take that too personally and removing yourself for those situations, I think, is really important and something I wish I would have learned way earlier on in my career.

Ben Aston:

Yeah. How do you do that though? How do you not bear the burden of that? How do you extract yourself from thinking, “Hey, this is …” It is your project, you are responsible. How do you remove yourself or separate, I guess, the project and you?

Tucker Sauer-Pivonka:

Yeah. I think something that I have to remind myself of and tell myself is that this isn’t happening to me; this is just happening and I am witnessing it. It’s not happening because of me, it is just something that I’m seeing happen, and now I need to do what I can do to get on the other side of that. But just removing the me out of it, I think, is something that’s a good way for you to shift your thinking on the situation.

Ben Aston:

Yeah. No, that’s helpful. Thinking, I think, so often we can get tied up in the personalities and the people and the stress of it all, but yeah, being able to extract yourself from it and look at it as a third party or I think one thing that sometimes people find useful is thinking, “Hey, what would my boss do?” Or the best boss that you’ve ever had, what would they have done in this situation? That could sometimes be a helpful perspective to sort yourself out.

But we all screw stuff up and we all do make mistakes. Sometimes it is our fault, sometimes it happens to us, but can you tell us about a big screw-up that you’ve made over the years and what you learned from it?

Tucker Sauer-Pivonka:

Yeah, definitely. I think there were multiple parties involved with, I would say, probably one of my biggest screw-ups, but definitely I had my own role in this part of it. At a former job, we had bid on a project and by we, I don’t mean myself; our company had. It was some executives at the company that had bid on the project and we tried to give them a good idea of what we think it would take. They didn’t like the price tag that that produced, in the executives.

What they did instead is they decided they would come in at a lower bid in order to win it, and cut the price dramatically, which obviously, that situation in that company was based on hours. So lo and behold, a few months into the project, we’re starting to go over budget and the project is starting to go south. We raised some flags at the beginning, but then once it was signed, we were like, “All right, let’s get off to the races and let’s go.”

One of the things I look back on and I wish I would have done better in that situation is I wish I would have put my foot down a little bit harder. I was really … in my role and I didn’t feel like I had the power to do that, but looking back, I totally should have. I should have had some frank conversations with leaders in the organization around that and what I foresaw coming because my gut was right and the project went really far south. We lost a lot of money on it and ultimately, we ended up with a good product in that situation and worked with the client well through that, but it definitely created a lot of unnecessary stress both for the team and for the client. It helped me grow a lot, but again, I think had I put my foot down a little bit earlier, things could have gone a little bit better.

Ben Aston:

Yeah. You know, I think that so often happens with us when we’re project managing and maybe we’re new to an agency or just new to project management all together, and sometimes we can inherit a project that we didn’t estimate, that we’re not responsible for, and we’re just told, “Hey, well you’re responsible for delivering it now.” And you’re like, “Hold on a second. This $100,000 budget is not enough for a $500,000 project.” Somehow, we get bullied into doing the project anyway, and we get told, “Well, we’re just going to have to be really efficient. We’re just going to have to do the very best we can. Just work with what you’ve got.” And no one really is doing that calculation to say, “Okay, no. This really is a $500,000 project. Do you realize that if we execute this project, we are going to have to invest $400,000? Do you understand that?”

And having a really frank conversation about where’s this money coming from? How are we going to fund this? Because I think sometimes, when management can make an emotional decision based on the fact that hey, we’ve got some capacity or they’re not really looking at the reality of what it’s going to take to deliver the thing. Yeah, they know $100,000 really isn’t enough, but they don’t know that it’s $500,000, and they don’t know that you’re going to go $400,000 over budget.

So I think sometimes when we can put our foot down and plan the projects properly, make that proper estimate so that it’s not just saying, “Hey, I think this project’s going to go way over”; it’s saying, “It’s going to go over $400,000. Are you happy with that? Are you sure you want to proceed or shall we talk to the client now about changing the scope or shall we talk to the client now about the fact that, actually, we no longer feel comfortable delivering this project and we’re going to let it go?” You’re going to get much more profit from that than investing $400,000.

Yeah, it’s always worth, even when you feel like you’re backed into a corner, you’ve always got that option of saying, “Hey, are you sure you want to invest this money? Because if it was my money, I wouldn’t do that.” That can help people think.

But yeah, apart from insufficient budgets, that’s something that we deal with often throughout our career. But I’m wondering, are there any particular challenges that you’re dealing with in your role right now?

Tucker Sauer-Pivonka:

Yeah. I have daily challenges, right? There’s things that come up all the time, but one thing that I’m trying to work through now is how can we, across our organization … Crema’s a product development agency studio, and across our organization, how can I see the health of all the different things across the board when things are measured a little bit differently on every different product team based on the types of goals that they’re trying to reach?

Just something as Director that I’m trying to do here is just get a better handle of that and a better understanding versus it being more anecdotal, which is the way that it is now. I can jump in and I can look at how their sprints are performing and that kind of thing, but there’s still a little bit lack of context in doing that. I’m trying to find a good way in my new role how to handle that and have that context quickly without needing to be involved in every single project in our agency.

That’s just something that I am exploring and trying to find a good way of doing. I have a lot of ideas and I think I’m about there, but that’s just, transparently, has been a challenge for me on figuring out because before, as a Product Manager, I didn’t need to know all of that, whereas now I need to have a closer eye on that kind of thing. That’s shifted my thinking in terms of how I think about our different projects here.

Ben Aston:

Yeah. Within the project world, we often talk about project portfolio and management, and that is a similar kind of thing, but we want this single view of what’s going on with all the projects? What’s the health of those projects from a red/amber/green perspective? And then often, we’re looking at budgets, how are the budgets doing, how is the timeline doing from that red/amber/green perspective?

But I think the tricky thing is how then are project team’s status reports rolled up to our project portfolio management view or that product multi-project team view? The way that I’ve always done it, ended up doing it, is in spreadsheets, but I know that there are quite a cool selection of project portfolio management tools that enable you to do this much better. Of course, it requires that you run the projects through their systems, but then that roll-up view of “Hey, what’s going across my different teams?” is a lot easier to discern.

But it’s tricky, right? You can sometimes feel like a project or a product team is going well because you’re getting a good vibe, but then you start looking at the numbers and dig a bit deeper, and you’re like, “Hold on. This isn’t actually where it should be right now.” Yeah, keeping an eye on those things is tricky but important, for sure.

Tucker Sauer-Pivonka:

Yep, definitely. Especially when there’s different metrics of measurements for the different teams based on the types of products they’re touching. That’s where I end up getting a little bit tricky in terms of what tools to use is because when those metrics differ from project to project, then that’s harder for me to track. But again, hoping to get there and it’s honestly been … It’s probably going to end up being in some form of a spreadsheet at the end of the day because who doesn’t love a good spreadsheet?

Ben Aston:

Talking about spreadsheets and tools, are there any tools that you have dabbled with or anything that you found useful or helpful for your day-to-day work?

Tucker Sauer-Pivonka:

You know, I’m always exploring new tools, but something that has been really helpful recently has been … We transitioned to the Atlassian suite of products in our company not too terribly long ago. I had used them years ago, but not recently. They’ve made a lot of really great improvements, and particularly with the integrations between JIRA and Confluence. I’m able to create dashboards and pull in information from JIRA to Confluence. It’s starting to give me a little bit of that bird’s eye view that I’m looking for and I can customize it to be whatever I need project to project.

That’s really been a big one that I’ve just been exploring. We use a lot of different tools and all for various reasons, but I’m trying to see if I can make the tools that we have now work first before I go find a different tool to use just to try to limit how many various tools our organization uses.

Ben Aston:

Yeah. I’ve done that before as well for that kind of project portfolio management view because you can do that: get people to update their status reports in Confluence, essentially, and then have a high-level view that just sucks in data from their other pages in Confluence or the projects that you’ve got set up. Yeah, that can work pretty well.

But let’s get back to your post and this conversation that I started with. It’s all about management styles for teams. We all know that leadership skills, like most abilities in life, have got to be earned through practice and hard work, but there are many ways that we can be a good leader. There are many different ways that we can manage. We all use different management styles at different times. Tucker’s written an amazing post that’s basically going to give you a crash course in different management styles that you can employ, for better or worse: results-based, democratic, transformation, servant leadership, transactional leadership.

But Tucker, let’s start with the basics in terms of why should we care about management styles? Why is this important?

Tucker Sauer-Pivonka:

Yeah. It’s important because you want to make sure, especially as a project manager, you want to make sure that you have a good understanding of how you manage affects your team and their ability to deliver those results. If you’re not really aware of what your style looks like, you might not know what your blind spots are. We’ll talk about it here in a minute. There might not be the perfect management style for everybody, but you’ve got to at least be aware of it so that if you do have that blind spot, what you can do is you can augment the way that you talk to the team to help with that blind spot.

I think that’s why it’s important to think through these management styles as a project manager because while you might not have people reporting directly to you from an HR sense, you have this informal management relationship with the team, and them being able to grow is also a little bit on your shoulders. If you’re stifling that growth through the way that you manage, that might actually affect their career growth as well. You want to just be aware of these different styles. We’ll get into it, but these aren’t the end-all be-all styles. There’s so many different management styles out there. These are just some of the ones that I’ve run into over the years.

Ben Aston:

Yeah. I think that’s so important, being able to be aware of your weaknesses, being aware of the weaknesses, of your style, being able to compensate for that. I like that what you’re saying about being able to engage your team and our role as a project manager or product manager is to engage the team, to enable them to do their best work. When we’re aware of our styles, and the style that works well with the team, we can adapt easily, we can be confident that actually, this is a valid approach rather than having some kind of imposter syndrome or worrying about a management book that you haven’t read yet. It just gives us a bit more confidence and it will help us lead the team well.

But is it always a one-size-fits-all? You mention in your post different styles of management, different ways that we can lead teams. What do you think about people, teams, projects being managed in different ways? Is that valid or do you tend to employ the same approach?

Tucker Sauer-Pivonka:

I do think that you need to think about it a little bit more holistically. Every team does look a little bit different in terms of makeup, so that obviously needs to be a thought when you’re thinking through how you manage the team. It can change on the type of business that you work in, it can change based on what the amount of work that you need to output with the team. And then obviously when it comes to the actual team members, everybody has different personalities and your culture of your company or maybe you’re freelance and maybe the company that you’re working with can change that a little bit.

That’s why I don’t think that there’s going to be a one-size-fits-all, but I do think that there are principles that come out of a lot of these things that you can combine into be your own kind of custom management style. What we’ll talk through today in the different types that you mentioned earlier, Ben, those are these, I don’t want to say generic terms, but they are these overarching things, overarching management styles. But what I find is I take a little bit from all of these things to fit what my team needs from me. If I’m not getting something from one management style, just because that’s the way that I typically manage them, doesn’t mean I can’t borrow something from another management style.

That’s what I don’t think it’s a one-size-fits-all approach. I do think that you have to customize it based on your culture, your team, the type of work that you do.

Ben Aston:

Yeah, definitely. Yeah, depending on the environment and the situation and the context, I think, we’ll always need to adapt to some degree.

For example, the style that we use with a remote team, particularly if they’re speaking a different language, will be very different to working with a co-located team and their first language is the same. As an example of two extremes where different styles totally make sense because one, you can afford to be more transactional because you just need to be clarity of communication on what the ask is, and providing really clear feedback is probably the most important thing when you’re working with a remote team.

Whereas when you’re co-located in that more collaborative environment, the more servant leadership, transformational, democratic styles make a lot more sense. Blending those and finding what works and resonates with the team to get the best results, I think, is really important. I think what you’re saying about flexibility there is really important.

But let’s talk about what good management is. We’re talking about management styles, but let’s talk about what good management is. What does that look like to you?

Tucker Sauer-Pivonka:

Yeah. I think to me what that looks like is measuring a good balance of team happiness … Does the team, do they still like coming into work every day? Are they enjoying the project that they’re working on? Sometimes those answers are no and that came to …. You’re going to have times on projects that aren’t ideal, right? It’s naive to think that your team’s going to come into work every day just loving what they do every single day of their life. That’s not always going to be true so you need to be ready for that.

But that balance part of that, the flip side of that is are the right things getting done? Are they getting the results that they need to get? Are we hitting the marks that we need to hit? Balancing that with team happiness, I think, are the two biggest things that I look for when it comes to things being done right.

When the team’s not happy, the flip side of that is are you managing to that? Are you doing anything about that? Are you recognizing that the team’s not happy and are you making sure that they feel heard? Are you making sure that you understand why they don’t feel happy? Are you doing anything to change that? Are you letting them tell you transparently what’s causing them angst or that kind of thing?

I think having that open ear and being able to do that is another sign of good management to me.

Ben Aston:

Yeah. In terms of thinking about good management, can you tell us about, aside from your boss now, who is the best manager you’ve ever had? What was their style? Why were they the best? What was great about their style?

Tucker Sauer-Pivonka:

Yeah. It’s hard because the boss that I have now is truly awesome.

Ben Aston:

Okay, of course they’re the best. Check.

Tucker Sauer-Pivonka:

Ideally, I’m learning from him and learning how to be a great boss, but some other managers that I’ve had in the past, some things that they’ve done, again, also some things that my current boss does, is they ask a lot of questions instead of giving answers. They help you think through things that you probably already have the answer to; you just need to be asked the right thing to bring it out in your own brain.

I think that can be a sign of a good leader and a good manager, especially when it comes to project managers because we’re typically people who like to have a lot of answers ready to go. And that’s okay, but sometimes for your team, even if you know the answer, you might want to pose the question, not in a condescending way or anything like that, but pose something to see if maybe you’re misaligned with the team and let them think through that a little bit and let them use their brain a little bit and figure that out. So asking those questions, I think, is a huge piece of it.

Another manager that I had in the past, she was really good at giving me ideas but it being these little bite-sized pieces. She wouldn’t do a brain dump of all the ideas she has all the time because I think we’ve all been there, everybody has good ideas, but she would just give little tidbits and was strategic around when she would do that. I think that is another sign of a good leader and a good manager is being able to know when the right time is for that.

Ben Aston:

Yeah. When I think about the management styles of the best managers I’ve had, I think it’s been managers who’ve given me a bit of leash to roam a bit. I think often when we’re just under a dictator, a Trump style of leadership or management, orders are given and you’re expected to follow the orders, but you’re not quite sure. You haven’t worked it all through yourself yet. You don’t quite understand the why. You don’t quite understand the how. You’re just told what to do. I think that can be really demotivating.

So on the other hand, where you’re just given some objectives and that more kind of democratic style of leadership where it’s like, “Okay. Well, let’s talk this through and work out what seems to be the best option,” but it’s democratic but it’s led. There’s leadership there in terms of the questions and the probing that are going on with that. You’re being led in the right direction, but it feels like you’ve got free rein to make some decisions for yourself about how you’re going to do it, and you understand why, and you understand the what.

Tucker Sauer-Pivonka:

Yeah. I honestly didn’t know for a long time I’ve been really lucky: a lot of my managers have been like that and I’ve actually only had one manager that was a micro manager and that was terrible and only lasted for a couple months though. So in the course of my career, it’s just a blip.

But like you said, having that freedom to do that is really important and in this article, as some of you will read, that’s what I call results-based. In my management style, I combine that with the democratic approach that you’re talking about, Ben, but really thinking, “You’re an adult. I don’t care how you get your work done, as long as it gets done. If you need my help, tap my shoulder. I’m happy to help you think through things, but as long as you’re hitting those results, I really don’t care how you get the work done. You have the freedom to figure it out. And again, I’m here if you need me, but really just expecting you to hit the results in however you need to do that.”

Ben Aston:

Yeah. What we’re talking about here is giving people autonomy. Autonomy is a really powerful thing that we can leverage in management. If we can help people feel like their voice matters, that their feelings matter, that hey, this is theirs to own, it can really help develop that sense of ownership so that they own it, so that they feel like, “Hey, this is my thing. I’ve got to be responsible for this. I want to deliver because it’s my thing.”

Also, mastery is a really important thing as well. Helping people do their best work and let the experts be experts. As project managers, we can’t be experts in development and design and UX and QA. We have to let the experts be masters at it. So having some trust to let people make decisions, and to be honest, make mistakes as well and be okay with that and be okay with that being a part of the process, I think, is really important.

Tucker Sauer-Pivonka:

Yeah, absolutely.

Ben Aston:

Let’s talk about bad management on the other hand. What should we avoid? What management styles are most destructive or what characterizes for you a really poor management style?

Tucker Sauer-Pivonka:

Yeah. Like you said, there’s a time and place for more transactional type management, and there’s a place for that, but I have a hard time of taking that as a good way to manage things. If you’re managing an actual team that you’re working with on a regular basis, that can not always lead to longterm results. You might be able to get some short-term results, but studies show that when you give people rewards like that, you’re really only striving towards those short-term results and that, in the long-run, things don’t pan out very well.

I think that that’s one I would say is a sign of bad management to some degree. And like you said though, Ben, there is a time and place for it. It’s just not super frequently in my world.

I would also say that I recently read a book called Multipliers. We’re reading it as part of a book study at Crema, all the employees here. One of the things that they call out is a diminisher, and that’s a framework that I’ve used to think of what bad management looks like. We can get into that a little bit, but really, anybody who’s diminishing another person in any way, shape, or form. That could be anywhere from suppressing ideas to micro managing. I would look at that as a perfect example of bad management and bad leadership: when you’re really only it for what it seems like for yourself versus being in it with the team. You might, again, get some results, but you might not have happy people standing behind you, which could ruin your longterm career growth.

Ben Aston:

Yeah. I think bad management is really easy to be a bad manager and I think, do you know, probably we all have poor management styles sometimes. We’re talking about that transactional kind of management style, which like I said, I think can be effective with remote teams sometimes, and I think can also be an important technique at the end of project when you’re trying to get it over the finish line sometimes when it’s like, “Hey, we just need to do these three things to get this shipped and out the door.”

But talking more generally, what a bad management style looks like to me, I talked about risks and I think a bad management style can be people who just avoid taking any risks, have few good ideas, make a plan and just never want to deviate from it.

I think a poor management style can be when we just are trying to be too democratic, so then we accommodate everyone’s needs and wants. We just want everyone to like us. And we do want to be liked, and we do like our team to want to work with us, but if we’re driven by this need for social affirmation, the project isn’t going to pan out. We can’t just lead a project based on wanting our team to like us, and often that means choosing the path of least resistance. That’s probably a bad thing. If we’re just looking to be liked, our management style probably is ineffective.

And also, the other side of that is then we end up just compromising. We settle for a half-good decision. We just base things on the majority, what the majority of the team thinks, and that middle ground that we get to is probably half-assed and is probably a bad idea.

I’m curious, from your perspective in terms of management styles that haven’t worked, what hasn’t worked for you and why hasn’t it worked?

Tucker Sauer-Pivonka:

Yeah. I think some of the things that haven’t worked out in the past have really been around, especially when it comes to … This can sometimes happen in large agencies is more of a top-down approach to leadership. You even mentioned it earlier, like following the orders of somebody and just taking those and not really challenging them, or not being able to, not being in an environment where you can push back and be like, “No, that’s actually not the right way to do this. I think we should do it a different way.”

I think that is a leadership style that I’ve seen before that just doesn’t work well when you’re not … I’m a big fan of when you have somebody new that’s starting on your team and you’re in a room for a big meeting or strategy session or something like that, pointing out to them and being like, “What do you think? What’s your viewpoint on this?” And giving them an opportunity to do that. Whereas normally in that top-down approach, that would never happen. It’s very autocratic.

I think that’s one that hasn’t worked and why I haven’t seen it work is just because you’re not getting the team’s buy-in on it. They’re not happy. In the back of their minds, they’re saying, “No, this is not the right way to do it,” but they’re still going to do it, but they’re going to do it half-assed because they’re not going to love the way that it’s being done. They’re probably only going to get 50% of the productivity out of them because they’re not all for it. I think that’s one.

Another one I could see that can be good but I can also see it go south is a lot of PMs classify themselves as servant leaders. I think that is a great thing and I love that. I think where it can start to break down a little bit is that, you even mentioned this earlier and this is why some of these things all bleed in together and it also bleeds into the democratic approach, is that if you’re constantly putting people first, there is a chance, hopefully it’s a rare chance, but if you get a few bad apples on your team that take advantage of that, and you don’t recognize it early, your results could end up being affected on a project because you are putting the people first. I truly believe that is the right thing to do, but you’ve got to make sure you have the right people on the bus in order to manage that way.

That’s just something to watch out for. Again, I wouldn’t say that it’s a bad leadership style. I do think it’s a good one; it’s just something to maybe watch out for because again, it could go south if you get just a few bad eggs on your team.

Ben Aston:

Definitely, yeah. There is that risk that if you’re just there just trying to facilitate the team, just putting their preferences first, that performance becomes a problem.

I think the other challenge that I think, particularly when we’re running projects in a more agile way with a laissez-faire approach, sometimes we as project managers can think, “Hey, well our role has just become redundant. We’re just here to facilitate. We’re just here to help the team collaborate,” but I think we just need to be careful with that as well. I think sometimes when we give the team too much autonomy, and if we are too hands-off, the project can lack direction, it can lack vision, and ultimately become undone.

So yeah, watch out for that autocratic approach, a too servant, too people-focused approach or a too laissez-faire approach. They can all be good things at the right time, and I think that’s kind of what we’re talking about, but the best management style isn’t a one-size-fits-all; it’s one that’s a bit more nuanced, that takes into account different contexts, team, and the projects and people we’re working with, and actually uses all these different styles to manage and lead our teams in a way that’s effective.

Tucker Sauer-Pivonka:

Definitely.

Ben Aston:

For those people who are half-listening in the car, what is one simple takeaway for us on management styles? If people are thinking, “Hey, hold on. I’ve been listening to this podcast for half an hour. What management style am I supposed to use or how am I supposed to mange people?”, what would you say to them?

Tucker Sauer-Pivonka:

I’m going to cheat and I’m going to say two things, two takeaways for someone listening on the road.

My first takeaway is if you truly don’t know where you fall on any spectrum of management style, jump in there and take some management style quizzes. Take a personality quiz, an Enneagram test. Get to understand a little bit better. These quizzes are done in organizations for this exact reason. Take them with a little bit of a grain of salt. Just because you get classified as one thing that you don’t think you are, for example, doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world; it just helps provide a little bit of a framework for how you might need to think about how other people perceive you. That’s the first thing.

The second thing I would mention, and maybe it’s the most simple takeaway, maybe a little bit too simple, but do whatever you can do for your team to make them happy. As long as you have the right people on your team, meaning you’ve got people who are really excited about being a developer or really excited about being a designer, as long as you have those right people, do whatever you can do to get them excited and happy about the work that they’re doing.

Typically, I’ll say that in my experience, the results will follow. You want to obviously, like I said earlier, you need to keep an eye on that in case you get a few bad apples in there and that needs to be managed a little bit differently. But in terms of best case scenario, you need to be thinking, “Okay. All these people were hired for a reason. We saw something in them. Let me give them the trust that they deserve and allow them to produce the results and make sure that they’re happy.”

That’s the biggest takeaway I think I have for any of those that are listening in today is just make your team happy.

Ben Aston:

Yeah. Talking about personality there, I think that’s one thing that I think is really important. We’ve got to be true to ourselves and understand what are natural approach might be. Have you done the Enneagram test? I think you included a link in it.

Tucker Sauer-Pivonka:

Yeah.

Ben Aston:

What number are you?

Tucker Sauer-Pivonka:

I’m a one.

Ben Aston:

You’re a one?

Tucker Sauer-Pivonka:

Yep. Usually, I test with a two wing, but yeah, I’m a major one.

Ben Aston:

I’m a seven and what is fascinating is whenever you do these personality tests, but I think the Enneagram test is particularly useful in highlighting this, is when it shows you okay, what are you like at your best?

What are you like at your worst?

I think with the Enneagram, when it tells you what you’re like at your worst and how you react under pressure, and the kind of things that you fall into, which is for me, ignoring people and their feelings and just putting my head down and drive things forwards, being aware and cognizant of that is really going to be important in how you manage your teams. When you come across a stressful or difficult situation, knowing what your default might be if you weren’t able to filter it a bit, I think is really valuable in, again, helping your team deliver the best work, helping your team be happy.

Tucker Sauer-Pivonka:

Yep, exactly.

Ben Aston:

What do you think? What project management style or combination of management styles do you think is best suited for a digital project manager? Why or why not? Do you think it’s worth just making the team getting the work done even if it doesn’t tap into their inner genius? I’m curious to know what you think. Tell us in the comments below.

If you want to learn more, if you want to get ahead in your work, come and join our tribe with DPM membership. Head to TheDigitalProjectManager.com/membership and you’re going to get access to our Slack team, templates, workshops, office hours, eBooks and more. Tucker’s actually going to be doing a workshop for us in the next month or so, so watch out for that.

And if you like what you heard today, please subscribe and take a couple of minutes to leave an honest review for the DPM podcast on Apple Podcasts. We love our fans. We’ve got two five-star ratings, so please don’t mess it up.

But until next time, thanks for listening.

Ben Aston

Ben Aston

I’m Ben Aston, a digital project manager and founder of thedigitalprojectmanager.com. I've been in the industry for more than 15 years working in the UK at London’s top digital agencies including Dare, Wunderman, Lowe and DDB. I’ve delivered everything from film to CMS', games to advertising and eCRM to eCommerce sites. I’ve been fortunate enough to work across a wide range of great clients; automotive brands including Land Rover, Volkswagen and Honda; Utility brands including BT, British Gas and Exxon, FMCG brands such as Unilever, and consumer electronics brands including Sony.

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