Temperament and Project Management


Adapted from Mary Dossett and Julia Mallory, Results by Design: Survival Skills for Project Managers (Telos Publications, 2004) *Used with permission


(from the Introduction)

Imagine you are going to shoot a rocket to the moon. You don't simply point a rocket in the general direction of the moon and blast off, hoping for the best. Yet that is exactly how many projects are launched, with great surprise and amazement-and finger-pointing-when the target is missed.

There are, however, great similarities between a project and a rocket launch. That is not to say that it takes a rocket scientist to manage a project-it does not. However, a project destined for success has all of the attributes of a successful rocket mission:

  • A clearly defined objective and a trajectory that defines the path from here to there
  • An understanding of the things that can go wrong along the way, with plans to deal with them
  • A plan for timely, relevant information to be passed within and between flight systems and flight control during flight
  • Predefined parameters that identify expected levels of system performance during flight
  • Regular monitoring of the progress of the flight, focused on key in-flight data
  • The ability to compare actual performance against intended performance and to make midcourse flight corrections



There is one big difference between a rocket launched to the moon and a project, though. A rocket is comprised of complex electronic systems-programmed and predictable in their behavior. These systems are prewired to work individually and together for optimal performance. By design, when an element in a system, or an entire system, runs below its expected level of performance, another compensates for it. If the compensation mechanisms fail, mission control can send override instructions, and the rocket will comply. It then continues on its path, almost effortlessly destined for its target.

Projects, however, are comprised of teams of people. Complex? Yes. They are undoubtedly programmed in their performance but hardly predictable in their behavior-if you lack an understanding of temperament (Keirsey, 1978, Berens, 1998). Project teams may seem designed to work at levels far removed from optimal performance, and no amount of orders from mission control-the project manager-may seem to make a difference. Many PMs fall victim to a disastrous leadership style: "There go my people. I must find out where they are going so that I can lead them." Project teams can seem hopelessly destined to fail, simply because they are made up of people with minds and wills-temperaments-of their own.

Yet it is exactly this diversity-a rich diversity of temperaments-that is the greatest asset of a project team. The project management process requires a breadth of capabilities and perspectives that simply do not exist in a single temperament.

Imagine a project team whose members not only follow the rigors of a robust project management process, but have also unlocked the mystery of how to maximize their work with each other throughout this process. Imagine a project team that works together seamlessly, "hard-wired" to work at optimal levels of performance, anticipating and compensating for each other's strengths and challenges every step of the way just like the complex systems of a rocket.

Fantasy? Not at all. Impossible? Absolutely not-as long as team members are willing to invest the time and the effort required to develop the necessary level of understanding of themselves and others, to develop the required plans, and to hold themselves (and each other) accountable to follow the project management process.

In Results by Design, the authorsl identify the steps of an elegantly simple yet effective and robust project management process and associated PM best practices. As they describe each step, they identify how each temperament relates to it and, at the same time, to other temperaments. They identify strategies to leverage synergies between the team members and how to avoid pitfalls.


Communication Management and Temperament (an aspect of the PM Methodology)

How each temperament communicates is unique. Consider the following aspects of communication for each temperament:


- Use abstractions: people and needs
- Are thematic
- Use exaggeration and generalization, analogies and metaphors
- May appear warm, gushing
- Use self-deprecating jokes
- Want to understand importance to others
- Use "global" language words like "always," "never," "forever"
- Communicate to learn more about people


- Use concrete data
- Are linear and sequential
- Use traditional language, are respectful
- Use formal body language
- Use sarcastic, dry humor
- Want to understand relevant experience
- Develop relationships through communication


- Use abstractions: theories and concepts
- Are strategic
- Use precise language, exact wording to describe the nuance of an idea
- May seem distant and preoccupied
- Use cerebral humor, double entendres, puns
- Strive to understand underlying principles, and expect competence in others
- See communication as a forum for intellectual query


- Use concrete data and similes
- Are tactical and to the point: net it out
- Use colloquial and concise language
- Use casual body language
- Use physical humor to make an impact
- Are clued in to other people's motives
- Communicate to get the job done

Adapted from Mary Dossett and Julia Mallory, Results by Design: Survival Skills for Project Managers (Telos Publications, 2004) *Used with permission

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