There I was, in the office by myself on a Friday evening executing some programs that would create and save test data for our system conversion project. I did not feel sorry for myself. Certainly I felt a bit frustrated when some of the programs failed. But sometimes that happens and when it does, you fix the problem and move on. It was all very business as usual for a technical lead.
Yes, business as usual for the technical lead, but NOT for the project manager. It turns out I was not completely alone in the office that evening. My boss happened to wander by. He asked what I was doing there so late on a Friday evening. When I told him what I was doing and how I was helping out by allowing the technical lead to go on vacation, I did not receive the appreciation from him that I expected. Instead he said to me, “You should not be doing that.” Then he turned and walked away. I felt deflated and unappreciated.
Shortly thereafter my boss gave me another project to manage. And within a month of that he gave me an additional project to manage. Soon, I was up to my eyeballs in projects to manage.
I did not have time to worry about whether or not my boss was annoyed at me. I was far too busy trying to do everything and I was certain he would not have assigned me more work if he was getting ready to fire me. I was really running myself ragged. After all, I had schedules to track, a budget to manage and team meetings to run. I also needed to be available to help remove any barriers which prevented my team from being productive. Oh and of course I needed to prove to the team that I could still be technical, so I still needed to either review their work or jump in and do some of the technical work too. I needed to be present for every discussion about every detail of the work. I wanted every team member to show me their work and review and discuss every issue (no matter how small) with me. If someone was out sick or running behind, no problem, I was there to jump in and do their work.
I was doing an excellent job of micromanaging and driving myself and others crazy.
It was not until a few years later that I realized what my fearless leader had done. He was giving me more projects to run in order to break me of my habit of trying to be the technical lead. He took a calculated risk and the risk paid off. He piled me high with work in my new role in order to help force me away from my old role. I think he knew me well enough to know that I would do everything within my power to succeed as a project manager. He was right.
One day when I was so tired that I could hardly move, I had one of those moments of insight. You might call it an epiphany or simply an ‘aha’ moment. I realized that the reason I was so tired was because I was the kind of manager who would think that it made sense to create and save test data. I did not have too much work to do; I was trying to do too much work. Specifically I was trying to control work that did not require my control. I was a micromanager.
That is when I began to spend my time with my team, not to be part of every decision or to prove I could still be technical. I spent time with them to get to know them and to learn who to trust and how to delegate. I began to understand where to insert myself and when to walk away because I was not needed.
That was how this micromanager was cured.