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Zombie Project Management

Picture of two zombiesLast week I published a project management alphabet, and I admit it, I had a hard time coming up with terms for some of the less common letters.  I ended up using Zombie Project Management for the letter Z.

So, what is Zombie PM?  Does this sound like someone you know?

  • They do exactly what they are told without challenging anything
  • They don’t come up with original ideas
  • They don’t suggest ways to improve the project management processes
  • They don’t follow up on actions – they simply assume they will get done
  • They update and issue the plan in a format that most of the team can’t read or understand
  • They work on projects that deliver no business value
  • They go through the motions of being a project manager but without any critical thinking applied

If this sounds like someone you have worked with – you know what Zombie PM is about.

One of my favourite sayings is ‘no plan survives contact with the enemy.’   Zombie Project Managers follow the plan, regardless of the changing environment.

Project management isn’t rocket science, and it shouldn’t be hard to get right.  But you do need to apply an element of intelligence and critical thinking to what you do.  Projects need to be shepherded along, sponsors don’t always know best, and sometimes you have to suggest that your project is stopped.  Zombie Project Managers can’t do this. They operate in a completely text book fashion, without applying any logic, context or thought to how to do things in the most effective way.  One of my favourite sayings that we overuse at my company is ‘no plan survives contact with the enemy.’   Zombie Project Managers follow the plan, regardless of the changing environment around them.

Fortunately, most of the people I’ve worked with over the years have been switched on and very un-Zombie.  I haven’t come across many Zombie Project Managers, but I know they are out there (cue spooky music).  I hope you don’t have any in your organisation, either.

What are the other traits of Zombie Project Managers that you have come across?

Like this image?  It’s from BenBlogged.com.

About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin FAPM is a professional project manager and award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.
Elizabeth lives in the UK with her family. She uses her organisation and project management skills at home, and also to help other bloggers at Totally Organised Blogging.

Comments

  1. I enjoy your perspective on this. I often find many of those Zombies you’re speaking of following the book exactly when the book can’t possibly expect some of the chaos a project can ensue. Thanks for bringing this up. Hopefully some of those Zombie’s are realizing not everything is cookie cutter. If you’d like to chat more about this I can be reached on Twitter @KrystalTristan

  2. I totally love this post! As a matter of fact, we do have members who are just like zombies and it’s not helping at all!

  3. Elizabeth, this awesome blog post has inspired me!

    Yes, I see these PM zombies every day. These zombies contribute to what is defined as the Iron Law of Bureaucracy. It states, in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. One example in project management, would be PMs who work hard and look for ways to deliver value to the customer, versus PMs who work to protect any defined process (including those with no value). The Iron Law states that in ALL cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions.

    These zombies don’t eat brains, they eat time and resources in the name of project management! So, sooner or later, zombies will take over your project. Be afraid. Be very afraid!

    Best Regards,
    Derek
    http://thecriticalpath.info

  4. I haven’t had Zombie PM contact (phew!) but I have had many PMs that didn’t being the team inboard with changes. We had the initial mpp and one or two from early in the project. PMs can zombie on specific duties only, to use your example.

    • That’s a great point, Diwat, thanks. You don’t have to be a zombie across the board – there’s a risk that people are zombie-like on just one or two tasks or responsibilities. I hadn’t thought of that!

  5. Elizabeth, I really like your blog post and term zombie PM. I have run into many zombie PM’s especially in large very process oriented environments. Not that I oppose process but at times I have seen too much process remove the creativity and confidence that a PM needs to have. I also think lack of experience playing into this mind set as well.

    • Monique, I agree. I think the zombie approach sets in when people are too hung up on doing things ‘by the book’. Rigid application of PRINCE2 for example. I imagine that some people try to compensate for lack of experience by relying heavily on process and forgetting that actually we’re paid to do a job, not follow a set of rules.

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