Project Management

Some thoughts on passing as an extrovert

A lot of professional project management consultants choose to pass rather than reveal their true colors. We choose to pretend to welcome people to our cubes, to speak up during the unending roll of meetings, and to actually leave our space in order to find out what is going on. In other words, we choose to pass as extroverts rather than the introverts we truly are. In some cases this transformation is so extreme that our friends and family would not recognize us inside the business environment.

It gets worse. Almost all of the business advice is written by extroverts for extroverts. The structure of business emphasizes the skills of extroverts (e.g. willingness to communicate trivial details, ability to endure the company of a number of people for hours on end) rather than the talents introverts bring to the table. So, where is the reference for the rest of us?

So, what is a dedicated project manager who also happens to be an introvert to do? I don't mean in terms of passing. I mean what do we do in terms of genuinely aligning our personal preferences with the needs of our project teams? How do we stop pretending and start really getting involved?

First, we have to accept that an introvert who leads does not do so in the same way that an extrovert does. An extrovert leads by using his charisma and ability to connect to draw others into his circle. It's kind of like encountering a jamming field inside of which the target's mind doesn't work quite right. An introvert leads by understanding and assisting others in understanding what needs to be done.

Second, we have to toss the PMBOK in the circular file. Yes, I know it's popular with project management wonks and introverts of all descriptions. It gives us a handy reference and the ability to create hundreds of useless documents to hide behind. At it's worst, we can use the thing as a "cookbook", a step-by-step guide to miserable failure.

The seductive allure of process, any process, needs to be discarded in favor of honest self-reflection and analysis. Most processes serve to record information for extroverts, who have memories like mayflies anyway. What we need is to focus our attention on understanding what is happening, why it is occurring, and how we can get our teams to act in a way that will restore blessed silence as quickly as possible.

To do this we need data. Lots of data. Fortunately most modern introverts are class-A infovores, and we have access to wellsprings of information exceeding our ancestors' fondest dreams. While the extroverts go out and glad-hand, we have the ability to figure out what's really going on. Don't let your lack of knowledge regarding "accounting" or "technology" or "fruit-juice" stop you either; it's all data and it all obeys structured rules regarding its analysis. Learn the rules, sort the data into models, and work it out.

Finally, get out of the front lines. We are introverts, not extroverts. It's not necessary for us to speak with everyone, all the time, everyday. Find an extrovert on the team, appoint him "team leader" or some such nonsense, and let him speak up and field questions. This kind of front-office/back-office approach to project management (whether done with a team leader or two project managers) can produce impressive results.

Good luck, my fellow introverts, and remember: it is no longer considered ok to growl at the person who comes into your cube for the fifteenth time that day to discuss his potted plants.

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