Autocratic or Participative Project Manager: Which Type Are You?

By | August 26th, 2014|Project Management|0 Comments

There are as many types of project managers as there are projects, so any attempt to create the ultimate classification of project managers would equal chasing rainbows. However, since a project manager is essentially a manager, I’ll talk about the two main types of project managers classified according to the style of management they are adopting: autocratic and participative.

Autocratic Project Managers

Autocratic management strictly means the manager makes all the decisions, without involving the team members. But such a project manager would obviously be a bad project manager – imagine planning a project without involving the team, estimating the duration of tasks without the team’s input, making all decisions without considering the team. So by autocratic project manager, I mean a project manager with a tendency towards autocracy, not autocratic in the purest sense of the word.

You can think of this kind of project manager as the traditional manager – not the “whip in hand” manager, but one who makes most decisions unilaterally, with minor input from the project team. Such a project manager is able to make quick decisions and, if he or she is technically competent and experienced, those can be good decisions. When you have a newly formed team, unwilling to express their opinions or give their input, an experienced project manager with an autocratic tendency may be what the team needs. Also, in a crisis requiring swift decisions, an autocratic project manager is what it takes. Nevertheless, such project manager imposes authority rather than solves problems through negotiation with the team, and on the long term, the project may suffer from poor team coherence. (more…)

Preparing for the Inconceivable Risk—Are You Ready for Black Swans?

By | August 1st, 2014|Risk Management|Comments Off on Preparing for the Inconceivable Risk—Are You Ready for Black Swans?

Black swan riskWhen rare and extreme events never observed before occur, they have major consequences and sometimes even global impact. World War I, AIDS, 9/11, but also the advent of Internet are all black swans, or extremely rare, unprecedented events with inconceivable consequences. The term black swan was coined by the philosophical essayist Nassim Nicholas Taleb in the book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. Taleb uses the term black swan to refer to extremely rare, very difficult to predict, and massive-impact events. Zooming into the realm of project management, when negative black swans (unconceivable risks, extremely unpredictable, and improbable) occur, they lead projects to failure.

How can Managers Plan for Black Swans?

Inherently, black swans cannot be forecast—they are unique events that are not in statistics and their total impact on a project is impossible to predict, which makes them most dangerous to any project. While managers cannot plan for such risk, simply taking no action and hoping a black swan doesn’t strike their project is not the wisest thing to do. But if they cannot plan for the unplanned, what can they do?

Grey Swans vs. Black Swans

First, managers can learn to distinguish black swans from grey swans and prepare for these. Not all project failures are due to black swan events, but to grey swans, which are rare but predictable risks. Professor Elisabeth Paté-Cornell from Stanford argues in an article in Risk Analysis that black swans are extremely rare, but people in industry and finance often use black swans in the aftermath of a disaster as an excuse for poor planning. In my opinion, this may also happen in many major IT projects that fail, for example those going over budget by 200 percent and over schedule by 70 percent—surprisingly, a situation that strikes one in six projects according to the authors of a Harvard Business Review article. Although managers blame black swans for such project failures, often their risk analysts have failed to factor in grey swans. Identifying and mitigating grey risks should be part of effective risk management. (more…)