The 'lazy' project manager: What is productive laziness?

The 'lazy' project manager: What is productive laziness?

Keys to adopting a focused approach to project management, to exercise effort where it really matters

'Progress isn't made by early risers. It's made by lazy men trying to find easier ways to do something.' Robert Heinlein (1907-1988)

The subject of this article is the keys to being a 'lazy' project manager. Now, by this, we do not mean that PMs should be lazy and leave everyone else to do the work. Obviously, that would be ill-advised and would result in an extremely short career in project management... In fact, most probably, a very short career, full stop!

In-depth: How to create a clear project plan.

What it is about is adopting a focused approach to project management, to exercise effort where it really matters rather than rushing around like busy bees involving ourselves in unimportant, non-critical activities that others can better address, or that, in some cases, do not need to be addressed at all.

Science behind the laziness — being focused

The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule) states that, for many phenomena, 80 per cent of consequences stem from 20 per cent of the causes. The principle was first suggested by management thinker Joseph M. Juran and was named after the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed that 80 per cent of property in Italy was owned by 20 per cent of the Italian population. The assumption is that most of the results in any situation are determined by a small number of causes. For a project manager, the value of the Pareto Principle is that it reminds you to focus on the 20 per cent that matters.

Science behind the laziness — being smart

It’s not sufficient to just be lazy; you have to be lazy in a very smart way. Productive Laziness requires a powerful and magical combination of laziness and intelligence. Here’s an example from the 19th century for you to consider.

Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke (1800–1891) was chief of staff of the Prussian Army for thirty years. He is widely regarded as one of the great strategists of the latter half of the 17th century, and was the creator of an innovative method of directing armies in the field.

Moltke had a particular approach to categorising his officer corps, something which lives on to this day within many armed forces, and which can be applied to all forms of leadership. General von Moltke divided his officer corps into these four distinct types, depending on their mental and physical characteristics. Let’s look at them.

Type ‘A’ officers — those who are mentally dull and physically lazy — were given simple, repetitive, and unchallenging tasks to perform. If you left them alone, they might come up with a good idea one day. If not, at least they wouldn’t cause you any problems.

Type ‘B’ officers were mentally bright and physically energetic but were thought to be obsessed with micromanagement and, as a result, would be poor leaders. If they remained this way, promotion was possible over a period of time but not to the status of commanding officer of the German General Staff. These officers were best at making sure that orders were carried out and thoughtfully addressing all of the details.

Type ‘C’ officers were mentally dull but physically energetic and were considered to be somewhat dangerous. To Moltke, they were officers who would require constant supervision, which was an unacceptable overhead and a distraction. Because they could potentially create problems faster than could be managed, these officers were considered to be too much trouble and were dismissed. No career for them!

Which brings us to Moltke’s type ‘D’ officers; these were the mentally bright and yet physically lazy officers who Moltke felt could and should take the highest levels of command. This type of officer was smart enough to see what needed to be done but was motivated by inherent laziness to find the easiest, simplest way to achieve what was required. Put in a more positive way, they would know how to be successful through the most efficient deployment of effort.

So, if we extend this theory, the hypothesis is that smart, lazy people have an edge over others and are most suited to leadership roles. The lazy project manager is all about applying these principles to the delivery and management of projects.

It is assumed that you are not stupid so you are already on the right hand side of the diagram; what you now need to do is hone your lazy skills in order to rise to the top right hand side of the diagram. Do this and not only will your projects be more successful, you will also be seen as successful and an appropriate choice for future leadership roles.

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