The effects of project manager personality profiles on projects

Introduction

Project managers are tasked with integrating all the elements of a project and making it happen. Sometimes they are given sufficient resources and authority to be successful and sometimes they must do with what is available. When resources are scant and sufficient authority is lacking, project managers must often hope that their personality or charisma pulls them through. How effectively a project manager communicates depends on a combination of their natural style and the style they adopt to adapt to any given situation. Additionally, somewhat predictable approaches are often taken to understand project changes, enacting tasks in response to changes, and undergoing personal changes.

The Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI®) is the most widely used instrument to make the psychology and personality theories of Carl Jung practical and useful. The team of Katharine Briggs and Isabel Myers expanded the theories and developed the instrument. The MBTI is a tool that indicates and reflects an individual's preference in what data they pay attention to, how they collect data, how they make judgments or decisions with that data, their outward approach to life, and the form of energy they typically rely upon.

Exhibit 1. Type Table for Project Management Sample

Type Table for Project Management Sample

This paper introduces and summarizes the use of the MBTI with over 250 project managers across multiple industries. It provides a simple, non-conclusive view of a small sample in the universe of project managers. One difficulty encountered is that the term “project manager” has as many meanings as there are organizations and individuals. This is similar to what has happened to the term “engineer,” where its use ranges from referring to a fully licensed professional engineer to a technician newly trained in a just few courses to support a product.

This paper also describes the basic principles behind the MBTI, outline two cases, briefly detail the overall project management profiles, highlight some patterns, contributions, problem-solving abilities, decision-making strengths, and potential blind spots that are typically exhibited. The primary purpose is to help project managers and others understand differences and similarities and how to use this understanding to reduce conflicts, build teams, make effective change strategies, and increase the daily success in the project environment.

Exhibit 2. Type Table for Case Study A

Type Table for Case Study A

Fundamental MBTI Principles

The typological theory behind the MBTI states that each of us is born with a predisposition to preferences, including personality preferences. This theory (originally conceived by Carl Jung and popularized by the Katharine Cook Brigss and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers) narrows down these natural inclinations to four different scales or indices each with alternative approaches. Each of us has an inclination to favor or have a fondness for one over the other although the strength of that inclination varies. It is true that from time-to-time we may draw upon the alternative preference, but we will naturally return to our “home base” where less energy is required to perform the activity.

Like other technologies or methods, the MBTI has its own set of terms or jargon—the language of the MBTI. Often this language gets in the way. Furthermore, some of the terms have a previously established culture surrounding them, which often causes us to reflect on the common meaning of the descriptive word rather than the concepts behind it.

Exhibit 1 summarizes the four preference scales or indices (also referred to as a dichotomies). First, there are two sets of functions that form the basis of our mental activity. The first set is the Sensing-Intuition scale that represents the two disparate approaches to gathering information or perceiving the world of information around us—what kind of data makes it through our filter. The first is termed a Sensing perception (usually abbreviated by a capital S) that focuses on “what is” and the current realities or facts of a situation. The second, Intuition (N), focuses on “what could be” and the future possibilities or theories surrounding a situation. Both approaches are termed irrational functions, because, in essence, they occur without our conscious thought.

After data or information is gathered, what do we do with it or how do we make decisions or come to judgments? Answering this question it the second set of mental functions called the Thinking-Feeling scale. An individual that has a Thinking (T) preference (remember to not get hung up on the terminology) makes decisions based on a non-personal, objective assessment or approach, while those with a Feeling (F) preference value a personal, subjective assessment. We should not be tempted to associate Feeling judgments with an emotional process or confuse Thinking judgments with an intelligence process. Both approaches are termed rational functions, because we are more cognizant of our approach.

Exhibit 3. Type Table for Case Study B

Type Table for Case Study B

Research has shown that every individual has access and uses these four functions. However, the development, order, and use of them vary. This gives rise to the concepts of dominant, auxiliary, tertiary, and inferior, which is beyond the scope of this paper. For interested project managers, an understanding of these type dynamics give an even better appreciation for our approaches to managing people and projects.

The first and last scales shown in Exhibit 1 outline what are termed as attitudes. One is the concerned with the direction and source of an individual's energy and the other with their orientation to the outer world or lifestyle. The Extraversion (E) preference indicates the degree to which an individual's personal energy is from the outer world of people, things, and action. Those preferring Introversion (I) are oriented primarily toward the world of thoughts, ideas, and concepts. For instance, a individual with a strong Extraversion or E preference would be more effective in dealing with the world around them because they are use to or trust that world. However, a strong Introversion or I preference is more effective at concentrating on the inner world of concepts and ideas and trust personal reflection.

The second attitude, the Judgment-Perception scale, indicates how an individual prefers to run their life and describes the processes used to deal with the outer or extraverted world. The Judgment (J) preference indicates that an individual likes or has a tendency toward planning, scheduling, and ordering the events of their lives and is good at making decisions. Whereas, a Perception (P) preference indicates that an individual likes to experience the events of their lives and hence has a strength in being flexible, adaptable, and spontaneous. For instance, decisions are best made when all data has been explored and we can be responsive to the situation at hand.

Although it would be naive to believe that anything as complex as human behavior can be totally simplified in this way, the MBTI provides us with not only a shorthand view into our preferences but helps us recognize and appreciate those with alternative or opposite preferences. The theory emphasizes that each combination of these preferences is valuable and normal.

Two Case Studies

The following two sections briefly outline two case studies using the MBTI. Only a few, key points in regards to the MBTI will be discussed

Case Study A: Technical Support Group

The team consisted of 16 individuals whose responsibility was to support the information technology needs of a large organization. The supervisor (senior project manager) was well educated and had a strong desire to push the group to improve the way they were doing business. However, there were equally strong-minded managers or leads that felt they understood the project environment and had their own ideas of what needed to be improved and how to do it.

Exhibit 4. Type Table for Project Management Sample

Type Table for Project Management Sample

A look at the MBTI results for this group (see exhibit 2) illustrates some of the difficulties and potential solutions. The three managers and team leads all have a TJ preference and are located at the corners of the table. All but four members of the group had this preference. In essence, the group with the STJ preference including the senior project manager felt that returning to the past ways of doing business would solve the group's difficulties. Individuals with a SJ temperament (another MBTI term) are typically looking to stabilize the traditions of an organization. The Senior Manger and Contracts Manager were very insistent with the need to return to some set processes that would organize the work and measure performance.

The other side, however, were those with the NT temperament. The INTJ project manager and ENTJ team lead had a tendency to want all the processes scraped and redesign the group's approach. “When you spend as much time looking at the new technology as I have, you'll realize that we could be much more responsive and spend less time with the customer,” was a phrase that was heard quite often.

It appeared that the team as a whole was very technically competent when working with customers. They were very precise as they tried to address problems. A somewhat humorous, but common customer complaint was that there was seldom any communication between the technicians solving the problem and the customer. This often caused the customer to complain that any of the follow-on problems were created by the individual who solved the initial problem, even if that was not true.

Case Study B: Product Development Team

This team was composed of project managers in a partial matrix environment directed by a program manager with the responsibility to develop different aspects of a series of software products. The functional management had some involvement and control in the activities of the team members, but for the most part let them alone during the critical phases of the project.

Some of the project managers had many years of experience and seemed to be growing stale in their efforts and rather unmotivated. During the last six months, the Vice President had hired new but likewise experienced project managers to mentor the less experienced or brand new (rookie) project managers.

It was rather uncanny that all of the new-experienced project managers were of the same MBTI preference as the brand new or inexperienced project managers. Exhibit 3 shows these new project managers and how they almost appear to be paired with the newly hired project managers. Note that all the new-experience project managers and the rookie projects managers all have an I-J preference.

Some interesting questions could be asked. Were the newly hired project managers specifically interviewed and hired to correspond to the mentoring function? Did the Vice President have any inkling of the MBTI results of his current and new project managers? In a brief conversation with the Vice President, there wasn't “any conscious attempt” to create that kind of alignment and “everyone that interviewed was hired.”

The Type Table as a Whole: What Does It Really Say?

Exhibit 4 contains a sample of the results using the MBTI while working with project managers in training or consulting over a two-year period. Some groups (e.g., the case studies above) consisted of actual project teams while the others were made up of project managers from various organizations and application areas. The primary application area (approximately 70%) came from the information technologies or software development area, although the project managers were not solely from the IT departments. For example, some project managers came from the corporate office and others were responsible for customer accounts.

What do these result indicate? Myers and McCulley indicate that the prevalent culture for a classic information technology department is INTJ. Furthermore, typical managers have a TJ (whether E or I) preference. The results above tend to validate that speculation.

One of the key difficulties in the information technology or software development organizations is the lack of communication that often results from more the individualistic, task/goal-oriented, analytical (i.e., critical) environment. There seems to be a trend in the software community towards hiring project managers that are more naturally inclined to innovation and people-oriented communications. It appears that those with an ENFP preference are joining those with the more traditional project management preferences (TJs). A description of the ENFP preference from (Kroeger 1993) indicates that those with an ENFP preference are also great project managers because of their ability to work on multiple projects, their adaptability, and their people orientation rather than a strict product focus.

“ENFPs’ ability to empower others is one of their most impressive contributions to the workshop. Unlike the control-obsessed Thinking-Judgers, ENFPs more easily encourage freedom and independence. In their persuasiveness they can easily accomplish the basic manager's goal of 'getting work done through others’ and at the same time make those ‘others’ feel vital and useful in the process. … Another great asset of ENFPs is their ability to generate options. It's always more exciting to engage in several projects at a time and to have more than one way to accomplish any one of them. Like the other EPs, this is an idea person who loves to upset the proverbial applecart and come up with new ways of coping with boring routines and slow-moving projects. Indeed it's often more exciting to generate alternatives than to complete the task at hand. Still another asset is the ENFP's people skills. As a rule ENFPs give strokes freely and are responsive to other people's needs. They can generally find time to pause and help, affirm, listen, or do whatever else is needed to get someone unstuck and back into the swing of things. They tend to feel loyal to those who are responsive to their own enthusiastic way of relating, which in turn engenders more loyalty throughout the system.”

The information technology world has experienced many changes. To survive, an organization must be fast moving and orient themselves quickly to the fast moving market. Some of the greatest roadblocks to success in an information technology projects are not involving or appropriately communicating with the customer or other key stakeholders, forgetting to continually clarifying requirements, and not individually valuing the members of the project team. It appears that many organizations are augmenting the natural ENFP skills with the traditional project management techniques to create a breed capable of coping in this environment. Will it continue?

For a small percentage of the MBTI results, additional survey data was taken. This included the following questions:

• How many years project management experience do you have?

• Have you received formal training in project management? If so, how many years?

• Do you consider yourself a professional project manager?

• Do others consider you a professional project manager?

• Is project management the career field of your choice? If not, why?

• What do you consider your greatest strength as you provide project management services?

• What do you consider your greatest weakest as you provide project management services?

This information gives an improved indication of how well the project management skills and capability applies to the preferences. Further results will also include this information.

Some Patterns, Strengths, and Blind Spots

Project Communication

Patterns of ineffective communication are one of the biggest sources of complexity in projects. Most people presume that they are pretty good at it, but in reality are rather poor communicators. For example, after completing a team enhancement exercise using the MBTI, a team lead with an ISTJ preference stated afterwards that he was “shocked at the accuracy” of the results of his MBTI profile. He expressed his sudden realization (or “epiphany” as he called it) that his typical communication approach was very deficient. Team members had hinted about his communication habit, but his natural approach to managing his projects left out the need for considering the communication needs of each team.

Building Effective Teams Requires Clear Alignment of Goals and Roles

There has been a noticeable problem with team members just jumping right into their work without clarity. Project managers with an ISTJ or INTJ perspective do not typically take the time to focus on this kind of effort, but prefer to launch into the systematic work of completing the project's product. According to studies conducted by (Jensen 2000), “many teams were operating with unclear definitions of success, were clueless about the broad array of tools and resources that were available, and couldn't articulate the two or three things that would have the largest impact on their project's outcome.” Furthermore, he noted that successful teams need to: “be clear about their purpose, believing it's important, know their specific goals, know how they'll accomplish their goals, have the right set of skills for their team, and hold themselves accountable for results.”

Project Learning

Teams and projects that succeed over time are also those that exhibit strong abilities for learning about the project environment or systems and altering their approach as necessary (see Senge 1994; Demarco 1999). The project managers that appear to “have it all together” are those that can see both the forest and the trees, whether they rely on their own abilities to do so or rely on this capability of other members to assist them. There are many managers that are caught up so much in the project at hand (typically SJs) that they seem to not really learn much from the accomplishment. Hence, they are prone to repeat poor practices and only complain about the lack of good practices.

Project Sustainment

The “student syndrome” seems to take place in many project managers. That is, we seem to get bored with the topic of a semester course about halfway through the course. Alternatively, short redundant tasks are liked by some and hated by others. It has been the author's observation that long projects seem to get stale after a while and that many typical project managers lose their ability to sustain themselves throughout the project. This speaks well for breaking a project into small, success-oriented, pieces and moving through each or changing their focus as appropriate.

It should come as no shock that those project managers that had a preference for P projected the desire to move on before a current set of projects were completed. This resulted in frustration for not only the team members but also the managers themselves. Why do I continually look to the next project(s) rather than focus on completion of what is in front of me. This tendency seemed to also be expressed by those who considered most planning events tedious. They wanted to just jump in and go for the ride. The strength of the SJs (that must be balanced with the alternative preferences) is that they resist starting project unless it is thoroughly planned?

Conclusion

A standard conclusion for most activities done with the MBTI is that different preferences and approaches exist among people and that these differences should all be valued. Nevertheless, standard conclusions like common sense do not always result in common practice. Project managers, like all professionals, must continually work at communication and good people practices.

The MBTI sample contained in this paper indicates that project managers will continue to need the traditional skills of planning, organizing, etc. However, the trends seem to indicate, particularly in the information technology field, that there is an additional need for project managers and team members alike that have a propensity for communication and have the ability to “see into the future” and adapt to it.

References

Demarco, Tom, and Lister, Tim. 1999. Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams, 2nd Ed. Dorset House.

Jensen, Bill. 2000. Simplicity: The New Competitive Advantage. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books.

Kroeger, Otto, and Thuesen, Janet M. 1993. Type Talk at Work: How the 16 Personality Types Determine Your Success on the Job. New York: Bantam Doubleday Publishing Group.

Martin, Charles. 1997. Looking at Type: The Fundamentals. Gainesville, FL: Center for the Applications of Psychology Type.

Myers, Isabel Briggs, and McCaulley, Mary H. et al. 1998. MBTI Manual: A Guide to the Development and use of the Myers Brigg Type Indicator, 3rd Edition. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologist Press.

Pearman, Roger R., and Albritton, Sarah C. 1997. I'm Not Crazy, I'm Just Not You: The Real Meaning of the 16 Personality Types. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologist Press.

Senge, Peter M. 1994. Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of a Learning Organization. Currency-Doubleday.

Smith, Larry W. 2000, Sept. Stakeholder Analysis: A Pivotal Practice in Successful Project. Proceedings of the Project Management Institute (PMI) 2000 Symposium.

Smith, Rolf. 1997. The 7 Levels of Change: The Guide to Innovation in the World's Largest Corporations. Summit Publishing Group.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and MBTI® and are registered trademarks of Consulting Psychologists Press, Inc., Palo Alto, CA 94303. The Type Table is copyrighted by Consulting Psychologists Press, Inc., Palo Alto, CA 94303.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
November 1–10, 2001 • Nashville, Tenn., USA

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