We’ve all been there, a manager taking far too much interest in our every action at work, micro managing our day to day lives. We may have even fallen accidentally into this trap ourselves, spending far too much time in the detail. Either way, it should soon become obvious that this micromanagement approach is unsustainable and ineffective; this is where the Principle of “Manage by exception” comes from.
In PRINCE2 there are 3 main “levels” within the project: Delivery, Management and Direction. As a PM we should live in the middle “Management” zone, where we balance a view of the big picture with an appropriate overview of the detail. But we need to trust our sub-team leaders in the “Deliver” zone to actually do the work to create the project’s product. We do this via “Work Packages”, self-contained items of work which are clearly defined and self contained.
The Work Package should be clearly specified, of an appropriate size and within the skill and remit of the team to complete. Then, as long as it stays broadly on-track, we leave them to it! We should receive periodic Highlight Reports on the progress of the Work Package, designed such that it gives us all of the info that we need. Then, we should go through an acceptance process of receiving the Work Package when it is complete to make sure it was what was required. The format for these processes may vary; email, online tools, forms or a verbal update. But what is important is that delivery teams are given what they need to complete the work and then empowered to do it: centralised intent, but decentralised execution. In agile or adaptive projects this aligns to the concept of a servant leader, where the PM empowers team members to deliver work, and also the 5th Principle behind the Agile Manifesto: “Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.”
The final piece of the pie is the exception process itself: both identification of an exception, and the action then taken. The identification should be because of the breaching of a tolerance as defined in the plan (stage/project). This should then trigger Project Manager involvement with the creation of an Exception Report that details the causes and consequences, options for dealing with it and lessons learned.
What are your experiences of managing by exception, have you every worked under a micromanager or had / great delivery team on your project? Let us know in the comments below!
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