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Can Project Managers Win by Being Annoying?

Some project managers lead successful projects by working well with the members of their team, their business partners/clients, and so on.

Actually, most successful project managers are successful because they know how to work with people. Sometimes, in difficult situations and get-us-out-of-this-mess projects, they can succeed even when they're brusque.

But downright abrasive? Self-righteous? I suppose it could happen, but I've never seen it. I've seen more than my share of project manager wannabes1 who seem to work at being annoying, but I haven't seen any successful projects emerge from their teams.

First, a digression about being annoying in another context that contains a lesson for project managers:

As the famous comic-strip villain said, "Riddle me this, Batman." Why does so much "free" software take the annoy-you-into-buying route? And what can project managers learn from it?

There are plenty of successful counterexamples. Facebook is free, and while the time some folks devote to it might be considered an annoyance, it is itself quite relaxed in its relationship with customers. I'm not saying it doesn't have annoyances, especially the most recent interface changes, but it doesn't hector you into paying for it.

Neither does Twitter, or HootSuite. LinkedIn has largely dropped the hectoring, recognizing it wasn't working. Classmates, on the other hand, seemed to turn annoyance into an artform apparently learned from late-night infomercials, until they became irrelevant.2

I was reminded of this yesterday when I went to look for "cloud"-based online backups of my hard disk. I already use the fantastic and too-little-known Live Mesh. Live Mesh is free. It's ad-free too, at least at present. It automatically stores copies of folders on my computer in the "cloud" (Internet-based secure storage), up to 5 GB worth. Even better, it synchronizes them across computers, so that when I grab my laptop and head out on the road it automatically contains all the files I was working on using my desktop computer. This article isn't really about Live Mesh, though, but rather about their relationship with their customers.

They don't bug me. The stuff just works. I'd gladly "pay" for it with advertising on the screens when I occasionally go to check on the cloud storage, such as when I share out a folder to a colleague or client.3

The only "but" is the 5GB limit on storage. I do a lot of presentations, and my decks are heavily loaded with images. My books are full of them, too, and I keep numerous work-in-progress and backup versions. My average slide deck is 50MB, so while 5GB seems like a lot, I'm running out of room.

So I thought I'd look at some alternatives.

But given how well Live Mesh worked, I wanted to try them out for a while, at least a month or two. One in particular looked good, a company called ADrive. So I installed the free version, thinking I'd check it out. Mistake.

The software itself is probably fine, but every time I tried to use it, it gave me a lot of hassle about upgrading to the pay version. (Just like Classmates, and we know how well that worked.) I would happily pay for something like Live Mesh, but there was no way I was going to do this without living with it for a bit first. It got to be so annoying that I simply stopped using it.

That's the project management lesson. If you treat your team well, they'll respond. (I'm happy to pay for an expanded Live Mesh. C'mon, Microsoft, sign me up!) If you browbeat them, they'll eventually write you off.

But you say, "I need their attention" (or money, as the Internet services would say). "I can't afford to have them ignore me."

You're right, you can't afford it. So give value for attention. And give the value first. Give it freely.

Help them understand how project management will make their jobs easier. Show them how it will save them time and hassle, rather than cost them time. Prove yourself.

You have to take the first step. That's a given that the best project managers either understand intuitively or figure out over time.

The star of the show isn't the project manager. It's the project, and the main actors of the project. (And the project's customer/client, of course.)

You don't win by annoying them, no matter how badly you need their help or attention.

Give value first. It will be repaid over time.

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1More than wannabes, I suppose, since they've actually been managing project. Managing them into the ground, perhaps, but managing....

2Mark Zuckerman would be a "who's he" if Classmates hadn't tried to annoy people into paying for it. Facebook became what Classmates should have been. What a missed opportunity. (On the bright side, the Classmates offices are a few blocks away from me, and traffic is already bad enough.)

3It's a Microsoft product, so making a few bucks off it isn't as important as it would be for a separate company. That said, Microsoft is very interested in making money off this Internet stuff! If you run a product team at Microsoft, revenue is always a focus, even if your charter says you don't have to earn any. The road ahead is paved with revenue there as much as at any other company.