What's your project management style?
…No, not like fashion-style (though there was a short-lived #dpmfashion hashtag on Twitter that I vote we bring back…)
When I moved from Austin to Phoenix a few months ago, I used the drive to catch up on a bunch of my favorite design podcasts. Something that stuck with me was a particular episode where illustrators and letterers talked about the typical hiring process they go through for projects: they’re hired based on personal and professional style, technique, and of course their portfolio of work. That one episode struck off a lightning round of thoughts in me, and turned into a longer stretch of considerations and conversations with myself as I drove through the Texas plains.
Project management styles—do they exist?
I don’t think we tend to align our project management work with a particular personal style or flair. I identify myself as a freelance, remote project manager who’s an extrovert and works with agencies. But those identifiers are different from an actual project management style—those are management techniques, the way I do business/who I do business with, and my personality traits. It doesn’t really align with how I actually interact with people and work with project tasks and goals. We haven’t gotten far enough—in my experience at least—to identify our own, personal styles in such a meaningful way as creative professionals might do.
I’ve worked with several business owners in the past who attempt to dictate the style in which their team communicates with clients or vendors: reframing emails or other communications to fit their preferred narrative or the company's "image", rather than fit the individual’s communication style. But the truth is that each of us as a project manager has a unique personality, set of experiences, and conversational style. We all handle the same frameworks of projects and achieve an end goal, but each of us does that with such different style and technique from our peers.
Hiring to fit experience and culture is one thing, and as I've interviewed with companies in the past I've thought about how I fit into their organization both personally and professionally. Even when taking on projects, I tend to lean towards certain projects, whether it's to build my skills, or work with a type of client I know I work well with, particular technologies I'm familiar with, or knowing a project is a good fit for my strengths. But as a project manager I also haven’t ever thought to seek out work based specifically on my personal style. Understanding what contracts or projects make a best fit is a step, of course. But never have I necessarily thought “I have a style that plays out in a particular way over email, video, and phone—and I should be hired for that style.”
So how do we figure this out?
What does a personal style mean to me? When I think about that, I think of a combination of my personality type, my project experience, the chemistry I have with particular clients and teammates, and the situations I've been in where I've felt I've excelled at my work. I also think about my management style with team members: how I communicate with them, how I deal with conflict, and how I treat the relationships I form on projects.
It's not as easy to translate the idea of style to project management as it might be with a visual art. We are the people in a project's background crafting creative solutions to bring development, design, and communication challenges to a successful end-point. Each of our individual contributions to a project fit together in a common thread, and we're the ones who can define and mold that style to be something we try to bring out on every project.
Tap into the power of introspection
Read Holly Davis's article about the power of introspection as a project manager. She outlines several leadership style activities offered through talks and workshops at a recent conference, and suggests additional exercises we can use to identify our own styles more thoroughly.
Think about storytelling
This article is meant for designers and visual artists, but I love the idea of thinking about our own processes and work through a storytelling lens. We can totally apply these ideas to ourselves and our work.
Do what you know
I love this sentiment in Cap Watkin's article about looking at great managers and leaders we've had to understand how and why they do what they do. I believe that our mentors really do shape us and our project management styles. This article covers approaches we can take with ourselves when we wonder what our style is and if we're doing things the "right" way.