If you like your project manager, this is a list of things not to do.  But if they really deserve it, here are proven ways to drive them mad.

  1. Never give specific odds or probabilities. Always make ambiguous commitments like “Probably”, “we may be able to do that” or “it’s possible”.
  2. Demand everything ASAP, instead of when you need it.
  3. Agree to a decision. Then the next time its mentioned, pretended you have no idea what they are talking about.
  4. Take surprise week long vacations.
  5. Do not disagree directly. Wait until you are both in the presence of their boss and intensely disagree then.
  6. Blame them for everything, but never give them any power.
  7. Accept meeting requests immediately, but don’t ever show up.
  8. Avoid short phone conversations in favor of obfuscated 20 email long multi-person threads.
  9. Once a week, try to do one of: double the scope, slash the schedule in half, discover a new stakeholder.
  10. Break into their schedule spreadsheet at night, and replace all the estimates with random numbers.

Know of others? Funny or real? Or both? Leave a comment.

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49 Responses to “How to torture your project manager”

  1. Rich S |

    It’s scary how many of these are completely accurate.

    Reply
  2. sorin stefan |

    :) Nice one. But strangely enough this can be applied the other way around too. If you are a PM or a Team Leader doing all these, it’s pretty bad too.

    Reply
    • Scott Berkun |

      Sorin: Yes! I thought about that. Many of these are reflexive.

      Reply
  3. Sandy |

    Hmmm…I could pretty much turn that around and say “how to torture your developer.” Pretty much I’ve seen all of those out of PMs. The only exception being that PMs who torture won’t respond to email questions but instead insist on interrupting you with a phone call that requires you to re-explain everything you just typed for a one-word response while not getting anything done, or worse, gather a meeting with more people than those who need to be involved that rapidly veers off topic and comes to no decision on the issue.

    Reply
  4. helly |

    Also applicable to how to torture your designer and developer.

    Reply
  5. Craig Brown |

    How about turning up to meetings late, unprepared and then leaving early to take a call.

    Reply
  6. Terry Bleizeffer |

    Tell the project manager that they need to run an Agile project, but give them fixed content, fixed resources, and a fixed ship date.

    Reply
  7. David Locke |

    Here’s another one:

    Remove all the dependency relationships from the Gantt Charts.

    Reply
  8. Jérôme Radix |

    You could tell your PM that your action is 90% completed. A completion percentage don’t say anything about the effort remaining to arrive at 100%. You should always (try to) tell at which date it will be 100% completed.

    Reply
  9. mhitza |

    Call in sick 2 days before the deadline.

    Reply
  10. Roger |

    These are great! How about:
    Prior to a meeting with key stakeholders, meet with the PM and learn what they plan to present, then present it at the meeting before they can without giving them credit.

    Reply
  11. Jayolansky |

    I think what you meant to title this was: “How to help run a corporation into the ground”. Not that i disagree with the notion of this at all. I just wanted to point out the misunderstanding.

    Reply
  12. h |

    I’ve had nearly every one of those *from* project managers ;)

    If people are doing that to you as a PM, it’s probably time to start working out why they don’t trust you.

    Are you paying for the sins of their last PM? Are they just naturally cautious? Did you do something to break their trust – and can the two of you repair that bridge? etc

    Reply
    • Scott Berkun |

      Nothing says a) a project manager can’t torture other project managers b) certain project managers don’t deserve what they get

      Reply
  13. Sarath C |

    I had a manager who was acting like
    1. I’m the center of this universe. I must involve and say dumb opinions in every technical discussions
    2. Treat people as “resources” or even in the worse case, treat them as a cattle-gonna-chop-down-in-the-market
    3. Always give appraisal ratings less than they deserve.
    4. Never allow how to grow in the organization. I have my own pride.
    5. Ignore all good effort and suggestions. Other people can make it better. He’s just bluffing.
    6. Always give priorities to the pets in the team even if they’re sitting idle
    7. Don’t respond for e-mails. Ignore them maximum possible, if it’s too critical make him wait for more than the required time.
    8. Never approve leaves and raise concerns even there’s no work
    9. Gossip on with the people whom are working. Make use of others to get gossiping done.

    Reply
  14. Sarat |

    I had a manager who was acting like
    1. I’m the center of this universe. I must involve and say dumb opinions in every technical discussions
    2. Treat people as “resources” or even in the worse case, treat them as a cattle-gonna-chop-down-in-the-market
    3. Always give appraisal ratings less than they deserve.
    4. Never allow how to grow in the organization. I have my own pride.
    5. Ignore all good effort and suggestions. Other people can make it better. He’s just bluffing.
    6. Always give priorities to the pets in the team even if they’re sitting idle
    7. Don’t respond for e-mails. Ignore them maximum possible, if it’s too critical make him wait for more than the required time.
    8. Never approve leaves and raise concerns even there’s no work
    9. Gossip on with the people whom are working. Make use of others to get gossiping done.

    Reply
  15. Ana Zgombic |

    a twist on #1. always give a specific figure for odds, probabilities and completion percentages. my rule of thumb is start at 10%, then increment by 0.25% every day. on the event that the PM asks twice in a day add 10%. on the third question for the day, i use a negative value >2%. so it may start at 11% today and end up at 9% EOD.

    Reply
  16. ilm shn |

    These are really good tips. :D

    Reply
  17. Henrik |

    nice post. 1), 3) and 8) are not as obvious as one might think.

    Therefore — how to feel tortured by a reasonable developer:

    1) Never give specific odds or probabilities. Always make ambiguous commitments like “Probably”, “we may be able to do that” or “it’s possible”.

    Re: 1) Demand specific odds or probabilities for tasks that are not really specified, no one in the company has done before and without sufficient time frame/budget to investigate.

    3) Agree to a decision. Then the next time its mentioned, pretended you have no idea what they are talking about.

    Re: 3) Present an abstract sketch to a developer and reach an agreement. Talk to the customer again and learn what he/she actually means, turns out to be 200% of the scope that you thought of in the first place. Make a compromise with the customer on 150%. Learn that the developer actually anticipated 50% and claim that everyone with a sane mind would have understood 120%.

    8) Avoid short phone conversations in favor of obfuscated 20 email long multi-person threads.

    Re: 8) Make short phone conversations presenting ideas that turn out to be very different from an technical viewpoint and that involve a lot of expertise in many fields. Urge the developer to at least give specific odds or probabilities (see 1) or to agree on one outline (see 3) with nothing anyone can refer to later as an actual description of the scope, agreement reached or estimate given for a set of features.

    Reply
  18. Bob McIlree |

    My fave is giving the PM authority over project budget and resources one day, removing it the next, granting it again the day after that, and repeating the cycle ad infinitum. Will drive them straight into the psychiatric ward within a week or two. One caveat though: keep them away from firearms and narcotics while attempting this.

    Reply
  19. Rebecca T. |

    How about …

    – accept a project with an impossible deadline, despite the warnings of the whole team, with half the budget needed, swear the client won’t come through with assets, then blame the PM for the catastrophe when the deadline is missed and the $$ doesn’t cover costs.

    - give the PM specific details to share in an update with client, boss, etc., then in the review meeting say the PM was all wrong and doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

    Much better to be on the same side, follow the Golden Rule, be fair and realistic. Try to make sure you avoid rework for your team and schedule well enough to make late nights and weekends rare events.

    Reply
  20. Riley Harrison |

    Be happy with an all knowing benign smile like you know/understand something and he doesn’t. Whistle a lot and make “out of left field” comments like “just 31 more days” that have absolutely no context or relevancy to anything.
    Riley

    Reply
  21. Dilys |

    11. Say that there is just one small unexpected bug which will be fixed soon and take 3 weeks to recognize what it is.

    Reply
  22. Ginny Bartosek |

    I’ve lived through a few of these! How about: Give a detailed project briefing, request project manager to present the project plan to the team and the day before the team meeting, do a complete scope change.

    Reply
  23. Manish Chhabra |

    Awesome write up!

    Not showing up for a meeting really pisses people off.

    Reply
  24. Marisela Fernandez |

    I will keep this in my list of what not to do a Project Manager and for warning signs in case someone else thinks I’m the bad Project Manager. Thanks for you post

    Reply
  25. Neil Muprhy |

    I’d sack the bastard

    Reply
  26. Shawn |

    Sponsors, PMs, Developers, etc. We all do it and get it done to us. The golden rule truly is golden! Great, funny article with awesome responses!

    Reply
  27. eric |

    I found your article on a french blog that has copied. It is very fun … for those who read it,,,,,,
    the rest of your blog is very nice. Thank you
    Eric

    Reply
  28. Arwen |

    1. Don’t give the PM the full brief, and when asked for additional information, make up random facts. Change these weekly.

    Reply
  29. Alessandro Maccari |

    commit to a deadline with the customer without consulting the project manager. When he or she protests, escalate the matter to his boss’s boss just to make the point

    Reply
  30. Kaz |

    Wow, this is much funnier than Letterman’s top 10 list. Thanks for the laugh!

    Reply
  31. Jared Caponi |

    Tell your project manager “it’s done” even though what you mean is “it’s ready to be integrated and tested”

    Reply
  32. Chris Denyschen |

    Good Interested in what project managers should not do or to avoid.

    Reply
  33. Nidhi |

    OMG why would you do that?

    Reply
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